If all of your worst fears come true and you made it, there’s much less fear in day to day life. I don’t spend a lot of time wondering if I’m going to handle what comes next.
When I asked Jamie Gann if she wanted to be interviewed she readily agreed. I knew something about her background and had followed her blog about the family’s five-month trip to South America. But I wasn’t sure how she was going to handle the tragic suicide of her husband.
An eighth grade writing teacher at Centennial Junior High, Jamie, 41, is so forthright and articulate, I came to decide that it would be better for the Monitor’s readers to hear her words without the filter of my paraphrasing.
Jamie: Here’s what I want to pass on to my boys (six and eight). This happens to be our particular hard story and there may be others as we go forward in life. But everybody’s got a hard story and it’s not an excuse to become a mean person and throw our hands up in the air and say ‘because this happened that’s why I’m falling apart.’ I think it was heartbreaking and horrible, but we came through it and it doesn’t define us.
Mavis: Where did you get your education?
Jamie: I received a bachelor’s degree from the Univ. of Colorado at Greeley, in musical theatre performance and loved it. But I felt it was more of a nomadic life than I wanted to live. I decided on teaching and earned a masters in education from the Univ. of Oklahoma.
Jamie: I met my husband, Bo Stambaugh in Montrose. His family had bought a farm next to where her parents had recently bought land.We were good friends for a long time who wanted different things at first and then started wanting similar things. We became a couple and after a year or two, were married at the Pavilion.
Mavis: You had an early tragedy in your life.
Jamie: I was 13 when my 10-year old brother was hit by a car and killed. I remember after my brother died reliving my last few weeks and wishing I hadn’t said this or had said this or done this or done that.
Mavis: Were there any warning signs with Bo?
Jamie: How far back could I have seen the darkening signs with my husband? With a suicide loss, it’s a constant regression of steps. It’s a powerful draw to try to figure out when it did start. Because I didn’t see it at first. To begin with, the man I married was upbeat and laughed way too loud. He wanted to change the world and believed that he could. Those were really attractive traits. I’m attracted to the tryers, the people why aren’t afraid to care an awful lot about stuff.
Mavis: You researched it.
Jamie: When I was trying to do research, bipolar did come up. But at that point he was self-medicating to the degree that they couldn’t definitively diagnosis it. He couldn’t quite stay sober long enough. He struggled with alcohol for a really long time. In South America it really came to light and he was really sad about it. It really triggered what I now know as bipolar disorder. He was smoking marijuana all the time and that seemed to become a switch that triggered the bipolar. He had hidden it from me for months.
Mavis: After South America you returned to Crested Butte.
Jamie: It was reverse culture shock after being gone for so long. He was unemployed for the first time. It had been a lifelong dream to live abroad with our family. No matter what happened after, I will always be glad we did that. That was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I was really fortunate. Bo worked really hard because he knew I wanted to stay home with the kids when they were small. I feel like that’s been a huge gift in a number of ways, not the least of those is that the three of us are pretty good at hanging out together.
Mavis: It was hard to maintain a relationship at this point.
Jamie: He and I really struggled the last few years but even through the worst of it, I genuinely believe that he was trying to make it back. He knew he was sick and I believe he was trying so hard not to be. And the rehab center wouldn’t take him because he wasn’t presenting as suicidal. He had a outgoing personality and he could present himself as someone he wasn’t at the time.
Mavis: You moved to Denver with the idea that there would be more opportunities for him. And that didn’t work out. Your mother Linda told you about a teaching job in Montrose and it made sense to head back. You stayed with your parents and Bo went to a rehab facility in Utah.
Jamie: He didn’t stay there long. I think the rehab center was good for substance abuse but didn’t address dual diagnosis (the bipolar and the substance abuse). It was a hard move to make back to Montrose because there were so many hard decisions to make at the time.
We had lived in Crested Butte for seven years. And really loved it. But I love living in Montrose and having my family close. I love my job and being a teacher.
Jamie: Coming through such a traumatic experience I ended up in a position where there was no longer a partner to discuss things with, no pro and con list to debate together, no one to defer preferences or decisions too. I had to make impossible choices, over and over again, and I found that I could.
And I’ve been stepping into my voice more and more ever since. Leaving South America, Crested Butte, Denver… coming here and learning how to be an adult in a place that’s only ever seen me as a child, where I’ve only ever known myself as one. Becoming a single parent. A single woman. While maintaining all the other titles too, suicide widow, mother, daughter, friend, teacher, writer, poet, music maker, story sharer…
And trying to do my best by each role. That’s what I would say I’m doing more than anything else these days. Trying to breathe more deeply into my voice every chance I get. A skill I’m hoping I can pass on to my sons and my students.