My wedding was crap. My marriage, a rollercoaster.

Sure, I knew when we started dating he was bi-polar but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. I was young and in love. But after only four years of matrimony my husband lay dead, killed by his own hand. And now I’m a widow.

I was born and raised on Kibutz Bror-Hail, an Israeli socialist farming collective. My contented childhood memories in the countryside drift over me. I grew up in pasture-country barefoot and wide-eyed. I was smart. Smart enough that when it came time to serve in the army I was placed in the Intelligence Unit where I served my years of compulsory military service rising to the rank of sergeant. It was after the army when I attended and graduated fashion school honing my fashion design and illustration skills.

I met my husband Jonathan at a mutual friend’s birthday. He was kind, funny, ambitious, loving and sometimes too smart for his own good. Jonathan, descended from Israeli national heroes, had a determined strength within him. He taught Capoiera, a Brazilian form of martial arts, which made me feel like I was with my knight in shining armor. Jonathan was an amazing man whom I love (still love) dearly.

It wasn’t long into dating when Jonathan confessed he was bi-polar which, as you can imagine, quickly proved to be a challenge but I was madly in love and thought I could handle it. We dated four years before we married but his mental illness wasn’t ever on public display like it was the day of our wedding. I spent most of my “special day” uncomfortable, distressed and lying to friends and family. We covered up the episode by saying he was drunk. Mental illness has such a stigma we were all afraid to share the truth even with these close friends at our own wedding! His illness became my illness. We were married now and partners in life through thick and thin. We struggled together.

I won’t go into details how, but he took his own life last year leaving me to wonder what else I could have done or was it destined to happen. I miss him and often cry. I survived his mental illness. He did not.

You’d think I’d sour to marriage. But no, quite the opposite has occurred. I have absorbed myself in my work and have immersed myself in love. I design opulent upcycled bridal accessories from cutting room scraps and the odd bobbles I’ve discovered and collected along the way. From these broken pieces, rejected scraps, come one-of-a-kind gorgeous bridal designs soon to be worn by women in starry-eyed love. Each dramatic piece is handcrafted with every stitch representing the collective attributes that will go into marriage. The collaboration of two souls — the suffering and the joy — all are reflected in my bridal art.

I still cry. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with emotion. And through tears I write this. But every single day brides, bridesmaids, mothers of brides come in to my shop and surround me in an enveloping excitement, a tingling joy. I spend my days surrounded by brides in love and nothing brings me more happiness. From these women I draw my own strength and with their help I’m learning to love love again.

Photo by Sharon Avraham.