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Edmonton singer who lost husband to suicide spearheads 18 hours of music in 13 cities

Mysterious Barricades founder Elizabeth Turnbull with her late husband Chris Kubash. Credit: Mysterious Barricades Concert Society

An Edmonton opera singer is honouring her late husband and others who have died of suicide by holding a free 18-hour, 13-city concert on Saturday. The goal: use the healing power of music to get people talking about suicide prevention.

Elizabeth Turnbull has fond memories of her husband, Chris Kubash.

“It was very hard to talk about at first and it’s still hard to talk about,” the singer said. “My husband was an amazing man, he was… I think he was truly a genius.”

Mysterious Barricades founder Elizabeth Turnbull with her late husband Chris Kubash.
Mysterious Barricades founder Elizabeth Turnbull with her late husband Chris Kubash. Credit: CNW Group/Mysterious Barricades Concert Society

Turnbull said it wasn’t long after they married that they noticed things were off.

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“I remember that first episode of stress and anxiety where I didn’t really understand what was happening to him and he didn’t understand either.”

Turnbull said her husband worked his way through the “period of unbalance and unwellness,” doing research and finding ways of coping.

“He never really suffered from depression as I would look upon as ‘depression,’” she explained.

“He was always busy. Even through his periods of stress and anxiety, he didn’t stay in bed or get overly emotional about things – things you might stereotypically and perhaps incorrectly use to describe someone suffering from depression.”

The couple moved to Edmonton from Ottawa in 2009, when Turnbull was offered at job at the University of Alberta. An engineer by trade, Kubash was passionate about music, photography, and woodworking – a hobby he turned into a career when they relocated west.

All the while, Kubash’s challenges were present. He kept track of his health in a journal, meditated, exercised, changed his diet, sought medical help – but nothing improved

“The last time that it became a more overwhelming force, he couldn’t regain his equilibrium with that illness.”

Last September, after many struggles with his mental health, Kubash took his life.

“In spite of all of those efforts with him and his doctors, like any other illness that you fight with everything at your disposal, the illness took him.

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 “Suicide is not something you commit; it’s something you die by. Even saying that someone took their own life. I suppose, literally yes. But the illness took his life.”

Determined to create a dialogue about mental health and suicide, Turnbull created the Mysterious Barricades Concert Society on World Suicide Prevention Day: livestreaming 18 hours of music in 13 cities across the country.

“Although it’s 13 separate concerts, in that sense it’s one big concert. Because each concert – as one ends, the next one will begin,” explained Turnbull, who herself is a mezzo soprano and stared singing in choirs as a child.

“The people who have organized the concerts in the individual cities are personal friends of mine. People that I reached out to after my husband died and said, ‘can we somehow connect with music?’”

Kubash’s cousin, Laurier Fagnan, says they weren’t just relatives — they were life-long friends who did everything together as kids. They were even roommates in university.

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Fagnan said for many years when Kubash was well, when his medication was doing the trick and in balance, “he was extremely functional and happy, a brilliant man.”

“Chris’s death very much disturbed us,”  Fagnan said. “No one could have predicted or expected the outcome that happened last September.”

Saturday’s concert event is in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

“His passing left a hole – a big hole – and this is a way that we are trying to deal with that hole.”

The cross-country performances started at 6:30 a.m. in Newfoundland, and will end at 8 p.m. in Victoria, B.C. All will be livestreamed throughout the day. From classical vocal and jazz to instrumental and indigenous it’s, a diversity of sound mirroring the diversity of the country.

Turnbull hopes the event gets more people talking about suicide.

“If we can look at it that way and change the language around how we talk about it, then I think we’ll start to change how we relate to it.”

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