OPINION: 11 years after her husband’s suicide, an Atlanta mom shares her story

Marni Ratner with her husband Jon and children, Diana and Daniel, before Jon's suicide. Courtesy of Marni Ratner

Credit: Courtesy of Marni Ratner

Credit: Courtesy of Marni Ratner

In 2009, when Jonathan Ratner took his life by suicide, 36,908 other Americans died the same way.

It’s a good bet that few, if any, of the survivors ever shared that revelation even though suicide, despite national goals to lower the rate, had been rising since at least 1999.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate increased on average approximately 1% per year from 1999 to 2006, and by 2% per year from 2006 through 2018.

Right now, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in the United States.

Despite the stigma still associated with suicide, Jon’s wife Marni knew instinctively that would not be her secret.

“I never wanted people whispering,” she said.

ExploreOPINION: A wife remembers her husband’s life and suicide

Their story may be the most detailed you’ve ever read of a suicide and it may well be the last. This is Part 2 of a three-part series — “Not My Secret” — that began on Sunday and will end Saturday. It is Marni’s way of making public what is often a private and lonesome battle in hopes that others may learn from her loss.

Marni knew Jon had been struggling with depression since the economy destroyed his business, that had been his struggle for most of his life especially after his mother passed, but she always figured he’d work through it. He’d find a job and bounce back to himself.

That wouldn’t be. Jon, 39, was sprawled in his closet. Dead.

“I remember screaming, then going back to what appeared to be an eerily peaceful scene, and putting my hand on his leg and forgiving him,” she said. “From that moment on, I never felt like this was something he had done ‘to us,’ but more that he had to do it for himself as his pain was too great to bear. Many people feel that suicide is a selfish act. I disagree.”

In the moment, Marni had thrown her cellphone. She found Jon’s nearby, still plugged in, and called 911. The dispatcher put her on hold, so she dialed her mother, Susan Feinberg, then Jon’s sister, then his brother.

Jon had shot himself in the head, she told each of them.

Marni Ratner, pictured here with her husband Jon, says she never wanted his suicide to be a secret. Courtesy of Marni Ratner

Credit: Courtesy of Marni Ratner

Credit: Courtesy of Marni Ratner

A close family friend, put on alert by Feinberg, arrived at the Ratner home first, then firefighters, who ushered them out of the house.

“We were just hanging around the porch,” Marni said.

The police arrived next and asked Marni to lead them through what had happened. It was close to 6 p.m. when the coroner arrived to take Jon away.

Marni felt like her life was on display. She longed for some privacy, but there was no place to go, nowhere to hide.

Feinberg arranged for a neighbor to pick up Diana and Daniel, 7 and 3 respectively, from school and day care, to take them for ice cream until they could sort things out. She also summoned the family’s rabbi, who connected Marni with the founder of the Link Counseling Center, a nonprofit that provides pro bono and traditional therapy for survivors of suicide.

The Link founder, Iris Bolton, talked her through how to share the news of Jon’s death with their children.

It was after dark when they finally arrived. Marni met them at the door, gave them a hug and asked how their day had gone.

They were still excited about the trip to get ice cream.

ExploreAre suicides really preventable?

Marni dreaded sharing her news but she knew she couldn’t wait. She had to tell them before they started asking about Jon’s whereabouts.

“I knew it was going to be completely out of the blue even more than it had been for me,” she said.

And unlike Daniel, she knew Diana would have more questions than she had answers.

Marni remembered her conversation with the Link counselor. Get on their level so you can face them eye to eye. Be brief and tell them just enough. Answer all their questions but don’t overstate anything. Keep it simple. Treat it as you would a talk about sex.

“Daddy hurt himself really badly,” she told them. “His mind was sick and he isn’t coming back.”

Why didn’t he tell us so we could take him to the doctor? Diana asked. How could my sweet daddy do that?

Marni assured her Jon was going to a doctor and the doctor was trying to help him and had given him medication. They had done everything they could, but it just didn’t work.

How that conversation ended is now a blur, but Diana and Daniel would soon retire to their rooms, where Rabbi Alvin Sugarman spent time talking with each of them.

Marni remembers hearing Daniel immediately turn his music on for the rabbi. He played “One World,” a Jewish song that was a favorite of Daniel’s and Jon’s. It was as if nothing had happened.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

Of course, a lot had happened. In less than 24 hours, their lives had been turned upside down by a single and devastating act.

Marni had her own questions.

For answers, she contacted Jon’s therapist and psychiatrist. Both expressed shock that he’d died by suicide.

Who in their right mind could think suicide was a good idea? How did she get stuck dealing with it? How was she supposed to raise her kids by herself?

For years, Marni Ratner tried to answer those questions. She talked about Jon and she talked. Then she decided she didn’t want to see her life through a rearview mirror with all its what ifs a day longer.

On Thursday, I’ll tell you more about that and how she found the peace she needed to live again.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

Not My Secret: Part 2

September is National Suicide Awareness Month.

For help: Call the National Suicide & Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Or go to thelink.org for the Link Counseling Center, or contact them at 404-256-9797.

Read Part 1 of the series at www.ajc.com/staff/gracie-bonds-staples/

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