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

Marni and Jon Ratner with her children, daughter Diana and son Daniel before Jon's death in 2009.

Credit: Courtesy Marni Ratner

Credit: Courtesy Marni Ratner

Sometime around 4 p.m., as she passed over the 10th Street bridge, Marni Ratner had a startling and unusual premonition.

It was just a flash but it suddenly hit her that she was going to be planning her husband’s funeral.

Sept. 24, 2009 hadn’t started with thoughts of death. It began like any other day in the Ratner household. With promise.

Marni and Jon rose at 7 a.m., and a little while later headed out the door walking with their little ones, Diana and Daniel in tow. First stop, Mary Lin Elementary school, where Diana, 7, was a second grader. Second stop, the neighborhood Starbucks then Daniel’s daycare.

This day would be different. There would be no walking and no stop at Starbucks. Jon didn’t even want to walk Daniel inside the daycare center like normally he did. On this day, he stayed in the car.

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Back at home while Marni dressed for work, Jon put the finishing touches on his resume. An independent ticket broker, the 2009 economy hadn’t been kind to him. For the first time since graduating high school, he was in the job market.

“This was a big deal on many levels,” Marni said.

At 10 a.m. Marni kissed him goodbye and headed out to begin a series of interior design meetings on the west side of town.

At some point, she took a break and tried calling Jon, just to check in. He didn’t answer. She left a message. Then a text. An hour or so later, Marni’s mom, Susan Feinberg, called. She was trying to reach Jon, too.

It wasn’t like Jon not to return their calls. By late afternoon, Marni was starting to worry.

Jon was noticeably struggling with depression in a way she’d never seen but suicide never crossed her mind.

Even though Marni had known people who’d been forced to keep it company, suicide still felt like a stranger, who refused to show any respect for the usual order of life. It quietly stole the old, the young and everything in between.

Marni always thought it was odd when people didn’t share their truth. If it were her, she wouldn’t hesitate, she’d tell the whole story.

It being National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, this is it.

That day, Marni decided it was time to go home. Normally, she would have picked up Diana and Daniel, but crossing the bridge that day was like crossing into the unknown. She headed towards Jon’s office instead.

His car wasn’t there so she quickly headed home.

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Marni was at an annual Jewish singles party at Colony Square when she met Jon in January 1997. They talked for a little bit that night, but she wasn’t sure if she would hear from him. Then they ran into each other a month or so later and, as they say, the rest is history.

Jon hailed from the South Jersey, not far from Philadelphia. Marni, a native Atlantan, was drawn to his northern edginess but he was also the whole package. He was so striking with his olive skin and dark hair, people often stopped him on the street and asked where he was from. He was charming and empathetic, methodical and creative. He preferred staying home but once they went out, he was the life of the party.

Oh, he had street smarts, too, something completely foreign to Marni.

She loved him and he loved her, so after a year of dating, they moved in together.

They were about to welcome friends to their new loft one night soon thereafter, when Jon asked for Marni’s hand in marriage. He figured instead of just a housewarming party, they’d have a surprise engagement party too.

Marni said yes and on March 27, 1999, the two exchanged vows before nearly 300 family members and friends, promising to love and cherish each other until they were parted by death.

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.

They’d been married less than two years when Diana arrived one spring day in 2002,and then four years later in June 2006, Daniel, completed their family of four.

There was never any question that Marni and the kids were the center of Jon’s universe.

Look how beautiful Marni is, he used to tell anyone who would listen. Isn’t she just gorgeous.

He delighted in making them dinner and taking on home improvement projects but his pride and joy was the playroom he created for Daniel and Diana.

When he played school with Diana, she was always the teacher and he was the teacher helper. In real life, he was her homework helper.

Jon Ratner with his two children, Diana and Daniel before his death in 2009.

Credit: Courtesy Marni Ratner

Credit: Courtesy Marni Ratner

When Jon wasn’t holding Daniel above his head in the air, he held him close on his lap.

There was no doubt that Daniel was a daddy’s boy but it wasn’t clear who loved Rummy Q and trains the most. Jon or Daniel.

If he ever left them, it wasn’t because he wanted to, it was because he saw no other choice.

It was still daylight when Marni arrived home that September day scared out of her wits. The trash cans were still at the end of the driveway blocking Jon’s car, but inside there was no sign of him.

Marni felt relief thinking he might be in the backyard but Jon wasn’t there either.

“I went back through the house and found him in his walk-in closet, just off our bedroom,” she said. “I thought maybe he’d passed out or something. It took me a couple of glances to realize what had happened. He’d shot himself.”

Come back Tuesday and I’ll walk you through the rest of Marni’s, Diana’s and Daniel’s journey from grief to healing.

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

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

This is the first in a three-part series about one Atlanta family’s experience with suicide.

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

Or the Link Counseling Center

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