I Lost My Wife to Postpartum Depression

It’s not that it’s hard for Greg Ludlam to describe his wife, Elizabeth. It’s that when he does, he has to use the past tense.

She was an awesome wife. She was an on-top-of-it mom. She was thoughtful and kind-hearted.

On June 1, 2016, Elizabeth, then 39, committed suicide after battling postpartum depression (PPD) for months, if not longer. On a crystal-clear California afternoon, Greg, 51, became a widower and a single parent to their two children, Emma, 9, and Ethan, 2. Just weeks before his family confronts the one-year anniversary of Elizabeth’s passing, he’s retracing the lost battle he never knew his wife was fighting.

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“I’ve got to carry around this constant feeling of, Why didn’t I figure this out?” he says now.

GOING WEST

It was Elizabeth’s bright-like-the-sun personality that Greg noticed first. They met at a library where Elizabeth worked part-time in Northampton, Massachusetts.

“We got to talking, and I was drawn to her smile and how friendly she was,” Greg says. “Even the way she walked — fast, with confidence. You could tell she was the kind of person who got things done.”

After about a year of dating, the couple went to California to help Greg’s family after his step-father passed away, and decided to make their stay permanent. If you look up the phrase “going west,” it’s described as the moment you’re about to meet disaster, but for Greg and Elizabeth, it felt like the exact opposite. Elizabeth fell in love with the area — the craggy coast, the nice weather, the day trips to the Golden Gate Bridge — according to Greg.

“Elizabeth took the lead with getting us out there,” he says. “She took care of all the little details — the packing, the prep.” The couple got married in the summer of 2001 and settled in Rohnert Park, a quiet neighborhood about an hour north of San Francisco.

“Life felt good,” Greg says. He was working as a mechanical engineer and Elizabeth had a job as a project coordinator with a solid track for advancement. After their daughter Emma was born in 2007, Greg felt like he and his wife were going through the normal ebbs and flows of new parenting.

“Elizabeth was completely on it — knowing what you’re supposed to do and not do,” Greg says. “Of course, we were tired, but it was fun.” Elizabeth worked her way into the Rohnert Park mom scene, attending classes for new moms and meeting up with them afterward for coffee and walks. “It was something she really enjoyed,” he says.

When Ethan was born seven years later, in 2015, that extra support lost out to work and managing a household of four. But to Greg, the routine felt like more of the same. The couple got up together for middle-of-the-night feedings and tag teamed the daily routine.

“Elizabeth would drop the kids off in the morning and I would pick them up later,” Greg says. “I would cook, she would do the laundry. At night, she’d get one kid to bed and I’d take care of the other one. We were a well-oiled machine.”

But then something changed. A change Greg did notice.

CRACKING THE FAÇADE

“Right around the time our son turned one, there was something about Elizabeth that just wasn’t right,” Greg says. “She was less tolerant of things around the house, and less patient, which was unusual for her because she was such a positive person. She wasn’t initiating time with friends or neighbors, and she started saying she was a bad mom. My interpretation was that it had to be stress.” Greg tried to help by suggesting she take a night to spend time with her friends, but she never did.

In the spring of 2016, the couple started talking about a move back to the East Coast, where they both had family.

“It was almost like a passing comment, but Elizabeth really latched onto the idea of leaving California, so it became this serious thing that we were going to do within the year,” Greg says. “We were both just kind of done with being on the West Coast. Elizabeth had been living thousands of miles away from her family for over a decade — a distance that now felt farther with two kids in the picture.” Elizabeth started packing up the house right way — stuffed animals, kitchenware that was seldom used. All boxed up.

My Wife and Unborn Daughter Died Two Months Ago. This Mother’s Day, I’m Celebrating Differently

I first met Meg years ago—a chance encounter at Yankee Stadium—but we lost each other in the rush to get on the subway. I checked every single subway car, but she wasn’t there. An hour later, as luck would have it, we bumped into each other again in midtown. This time I made sure to get her number. We were married 3 years later.

We had a baby. We moved to the suburbs. Meg was pregnant with our second daughter and when we saw her on the ultrasound this past February, she looked at us and blinked, clear as day. It was wild. Meg was due on May 18, the week after Mother’s Day, and we couldn’t wait for our little family of three—Meg, me and our Thomas the Train loving toddler Isabelle —to grow.

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But everything changed unexpectedly the morning of March 3, 2017, when Meg was six and a half months pregnant. Meg left before I did—I was in the shower—so she said goodbye and we said “I love you.” And when I headed to work a little later, I noticed the street was closed near our house, just by the bus stop where Meg and her brother Derek catch the bus to New York City. A little while later, Meg’s mom called me and told me Derek had been in an accident and they couldn’t get in touch with Meg. Soon my father called and told me to come home, and immediately, right then, I knew exactly what happened.

The first time I said my daughter Addy’s name out loud was when the coroner called. Meg and I had traded a bunch of emails and texts about names, and Adaline was the one we would have picked, even if we both hadn’t admitted that yet. It felt so weird to make a decision like this without her. I still look at the emails and texts she’s sent me, or listen to her voice on a voicemail. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s comforting. But I’m glad I have them.

I still look at the emails and texts she’s sent me, or listen to her voice on a voicemail. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s comforting. But I’m glad I have them.

Meg was special. She was beautiful and smart, an amazing softball player and the kind of person who loved impromptu dance parties in the kitchen. She went to church on Sundays, even if we had been out on Saturday night. She loved her parents. She was patient and kind, the kind of person you thanked God for every single day. I still do. I was lucky to have 10 years with Meg, and I know that. And sometimes when I look at Izzy, I see Meg. Like her mother, Izzy has possibly the worst poker face on the planet. If she’s excited, it’s all right there; she’s bursting. And if she’s mad, well, good luck. There’s no hiding that either. It would always make me laugh with Meg, because she could never pretend to like a gift, or a meal at a restaurant. The words might say one thing—she was always so gracious and lovely—but her face said another.

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Telling Izzy that Meg had passed was one of the hardest parts of all of this. She was so little, just a month before her 2nd birthday. And it’s hard for me to accept that she will grow up without a mother. I mean, maybe I’ll have some perspective over time, but the world is not a better place without her. I talked to a lot of experts to make sure I said the right things to Izzy—I used the word “died,” not “sleeping,” because I didn’t want her to think Meg would wake up. I didn’t tell her she was with Jesus, because she associates going to church on Sundays with visiting Jesus. Truth is, I didn’t want to give her more than she needs, but I also wanted to make sure she understood that Meg wasn’t coming back, even though some days I have trouble understanding that.

The hardest parts are the little things, like going to bed at night. Multiple times a day I think: “I can’t wait to tell Meg this story.” It might be something that happened at work or a teacher says something about Isabelle at daycare and I just want to share it with Meg. That’s the most difficult stuff, where for a split moment you forget she’s not there anymore. In those moments I kind of just shake my head and try to smile and look up.

But I can’t always muster a smile, there are many times where I am enraged and frustrated, always keeping those emotions from Izzy, knowing that it could have been different for us. Izzy and I talk about Meg all the time—if we’re talking about favorite colors, we’ll do daddy’s, Izzy’s and mommy’s—and there are pictures everywhere in our house. I used to buy Meg flowers every week and I still do. When I bring them home, Izzy says they are for mommy and we put them in the familiar places. When Izzy brings Meg up, just recently she said, “Mommy, mommy, I miss mommy,” I tell her it’s OK to miss her and I miss her too. I have to remind her we won’t see her again, but I also reassure her that I am not going anywhere.

The hardest parts are the little things, like going to bed at night. Multiple times a day I think: “I can’t wait to tell Meg this story.”

I needed to be direct and honest with her, which was difficult, but I needed her to hear it from me. She is surrounded by love—me, my parents, Meg’s parents, Meg’s brother Derek, and my siblings—and that means everything. (Our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and strangers have all been so incredibly supportive, and while I haven’t had the chance to thank them all, it’s really so appreciated.) Now when Izzy cries—she’s a 2-year-old, it’s part of the toddler experience—she says daddy, but every now and again she says “mommy,” although she catches herself. I know she misses her.

I know Meg isn’t coming back, but I still feel like we’re raising Isabelle together. For Mother’s Day, while most of the kids made cards for their moms, Izzy made them for her grandmothers. They both went to her mommy and me event at school, too. I know that she will look for female role models —I can see it already. And while no one will replace Meg, we’re so lucky to have my mother-in-law, my mom, my sister, my brother’s girlfriend and my brother’s wife around. If I have to make a decision, I often think, ‘what would Meg do?’. That doesn’t mean I do exactly what she would have done, but I play it out—what I would have said, what she would have said, and where we would have ended up. I still tag Meg in everything on Facebook, too. She has friends that I’m not friends with and I want them to see Izzy and still be a part of our life.

This Mother’s Day, and every other day, I want Izzy to know how loved she is by me, how much Meg loved her and how important she was to Meg. I want her to know the compassionate, loving, and brilliant woman her mother was, the foods she loved and the songs she liked. I want her to know that she has a mother, someone who loved the title of ‘Izzy’s mommy’ above all else.I don’t ever feel alone and I don’t want Izzy too either. Meg and I are raising our child together and the three of us are still a family.