Eric Dyches and Leslie Huntsman Dyches both lost spouses to mental illness. Emily Cook Dyches, Eric’s first wife had just given birth to her fifth child when she began suffering from severe postpartum anxiety, which ultimately took her life in 2016. Chad Huntsman battled depression for 14 years before his death on April 7, 2015. Now, they are sharing their stories in hopes of bringing comfort to others who are suffering from similar circumstances. In both cases, their spouses’ deaths were called suicide, but the couple emphasizes that when we speak of suicide, we are speaking of unique circumstances and the passing of one individual.
“I think I feel strongly about that because of the faces that I've looked into and the eyes that I've looked into—family members, families that have lost children and spouses and loved ones to what we call suicide. It's a word that's broadly used, but there's so much emotion attached to that. And when you use that word in the context of a conversation, when someone passes away, there's automatic judgment. It's just, it's human nature to just start connecting dots and asking questions and wondering, and that can be a very painful process for those that are left behind,” Eric Dyches says, later adding, “I'm just here to suggest as a society, let's look at it more broadly. So the terminology that I prefer to use is ‘died by mental illness.’”
On this week’s All In podcast, host Morgan Jones spoke with Eric and Leslie about remarriage after the traumatic death of a spouse, blending their families, and what their message would be to others struggling with mental illness.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Eric Dyches: I knew early on—and this is a super sensitive side, but I'm willing to share at some small level if it can help somebody—I knew very early on, that there was going to be a ram in the thicket. I knew the story of Abraham and Isaac kept coming to mind, and the words those sacred powerful words that God would provide. I didn't know all the details, but I figured that it would probably be a remarriage. And I knew that was going to be hurtful for people. And I didn't know how my heart would change, because at the time I was so still in love with Emily, which I am today. Thus the whole complication with four people falling in love, right? Somehow, God provides a way for hearts to love. And God has provided a way for me today, as I sit here, to love Emily in the spirit world and to love Leslie right next to me. And I can't explain it. But I know that it's working out for us. And one day, we'll have more answers. I welcome the fact that Leslie continues to love Chad. I want that to happen. We celebrated his birthday recently. And Leslie took her three kids, and they went to a nice dinner, and they laughed and lived and loved all about Chad. And I want that to continue. So I can't explain exactly, the best way to describe it is it's a gift that God bestowed upon both of us to allow room in our hearts to have an additional relationship. We talk about, in the Pearl of Great Price, it's this concept of “added upon.” Leslie does not [or] will not take Emily's spot, she's added to the relationships in my life. And I've made place for her in my heart while keeping place for Emily.
Morgan Jones: That's beautiful. Leslie, anything you would add to that?
Leslie Huntsman Dyches: What I was thinking is just how our Father in Heaven just gives us this capacity to love. And He just expands that. And I think about these eight kids. I just had the three before, and I never wanted a big family. But I felt [that] my Heavenly Father just opened my heart and expanded it to love these children like they're my own. So the baby, Emily and Eric's baby—Trey. He's kind of the light of our lives. Everybody knows him. I go to the high school, “Trey! Trey!” Everybody knows him. The elementary school, I mean . . . everyone loves Trey. Anyway, he just started kindergarten a few weeks ago. And I took him in just thinking, “This can be great. I'm going to have a couple hours to myself,” and I take him in. And I was stopped by this administrator in elementary school in the hallway, and she said, “Oh, Trey's going to kindergarten,” and she goes, “I can hardly believe that.” And it just hit me. It hit me so hard that I was the one taking him to kindergarten, that his mom wasn't there. And I immediately just got teary, and you feel a tiny bit of guilt, that it's you and not her. And just knowing how I feel as a mom and how much I love all my kids, just knowing I wouldn't be there for those milestones, it hit me really hard at that time. And I really felt that she was aware of him and she was aware of me and my feelings and that she was grateful that I was there taking care of him and loving him. And it opened my eyes a little bit more to the whole, to a different perspective [that it’s] not “My family, your family”—that we're all in God's family. And we're all just kind of helping each other along and helping each other home.
Morgan Jones: I think that it is so inspiring to hear how the two of you have come together. I don't want to miss the opportunity because we've never talked about the topic of suicide on this podcast before. And it is something that when you and I spoke, Eric, on the phone and you told me not only about Emily but about Chad—and I told you this on the phone—that I have a list of things that I want to talk about on this podcast. But I often wait until I feel like the right situation comes along. And I felt like this is a good time to talk about this. If the numbers hold true, then there are people listening to this podcast who have either contemplated suicide or who at this moment are contemplating suicide. Eric, what would you say to those people?
Eric Dyches: I'll keep it pretty simple. And I hope these words will resonate in someone's mind if they ever contemplate taking their own life. And these words are, “The picture on the nightstand is not enough.” And what I mean by that is, we have eight kids, and you can imagine, we have many life events in any given month or any given year. We have plenty of life events. We have a son who we just sent off at the airport [on a mission]. And shouldn't his mom have been there? We have an 11-year-old that'll be receiving the priesthood. And I'm the one that's going to do that. Shouldn't Chad be doing that? We have daughters who are having these handsome young men come and pick them up for dates. Shouldn't Chad be here seeing them off? And on and on, right? Birthday parties and big events. And without exception, our kids next to their bed, have a picture at least, or often multiple pictures, of their late parent. And my point is, that picture is not enough. If you are contemplating ending your existence in this life, I can tell you, the pictures left behind on the nightstand will not be enough. Leslie and I have spent countless hours with our kids holding them, literally holding them. And when you have a child, through sobs, just saying, “I just miss her. I just miss mom," or "I just miss dad,” which we've been there, we've done that. And as a parent, it's one of the most helpless feelings to not be able to bring that person back, and the only thing to say is, “I miss them too. I wish she were here. I wish he were here.” And our message Leslie and I would have for others is [that] the picture on the nightstand will never be enough. So please just stay and find the resources and seek out the help and continue down the path. God will provide. Medical science is improving. Our resources locally are improving. I am amazed at the people that I talk with. And I'm amazed that I see these donations recently, just as of a few days ago, there are donations coming to the right places, we are improving the resources for mental illness. And we're improving the resources to fight this epidemic of suicide in the state of Utah and surrounding areas. So my message is, “Your picture on that nightstand will not be enough. Please just stay.”