VICTORIA -- The search for 41-year-old Ben Kilmer in the Cowichan Valley captivated Vancouver Island residents two summers ago.

The married father of two young children disappeared mysteriously on May 16, 2018, leaving his work van idling on the side of Cowichan Lake Road.

Hundreds of volunteers helped with the search effort that stretched into the fall. But the search ended in despair when he was found dead by suicide.

His wife, Tonya Kilmer, vividly recalls her shock when police told her the news at the family’s home.

“My heart just sank,” she recalled Tuesday. “Why are you here? How can you be here? How is this even possible? And it was the last thing that I would have thought – I was sure that Ben was still out there.”

In the 27 months since his death, Tonya has focussed on finding answers to those questions and to trying to understand why the man she loved — who had no family history of mental health problems and no diagnosis of mental illness — took his own life.

She says financial stress piled up over the family home Ben was building, leading to insomnia, and a cycle of worry over the course of seven months.

Initially, her husband was reluctant to ask for help, either with his mounting anxiety or the financial struggle triggering it.

Tonya says she doesn’t want to see other families go through the same pain.

“Just don't let pride get in the way of seeking help, of getting that help that is needed,” Tonya says.

The day Ben disappeared, his last phone call was to his counsellor, who couldn’t pick up because he was with a patient.

Tonya wants others feeling acute desperation to know that they can always 911, and police will help with mental health calls.

It’s a call he didn’t make, but one she thinks might have saved Ben’s life, a man she remembers as a true adventurer who loved dearly his family and loved being outdoors with them.

“A man who lived every moment to the fullest," she remembers. "A man who loved living outdoors and being active with his family. A man who loved with his whole heart.”

Tonya says she’s motivated to come forward now and speak out about Ben’s life and death because of the stress many are feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She’s sharing her story with a Cowichan Valley-based podcast called Obstacle Course Podcast, beginning Wednesday over three episodes.

The podcast is a not-for-profit effort by John Close and Andrew Langford. It focuses on people overcoming adversity.

The three episodes with Tonya look at what led to Ben’s death and how it could have been avoided.

“What was it that led to Ben being compromised like he was?” says Close. “And more specifically, how can we prevent this from happening too somebody else?”

“We go into darkness and try and shed light,” says Langford.

Two years after she lost the man she called her rock, Tonya is working to shed light on his death, so that it wasn’t in vain.