Taking steps to ease the pain of suicide — (The Oregonian)

Original article no longer available

The Oregonian

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

GABRIELLE GLASER, The Oregonian Staff

Two women who lost loved ones join a 5K walk to shed light on such deaths

Karen Iliff and Dori Radtke sat solemnly in a downtown Portland coffee shop, revisiting the moment they became members of the sad fellowship they never dreamed of joining. The two women lost loved ones to suicide, and despite their anger, hurt and sorrow, they hope to raise awareness for an issue they think, all too often, is stigmatized.

Both are involved in a fundraising walk Saturday called “Out of the Darkness,” organized by the [pharma-sponsored – Ed] American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The 5K walk will start at noon at the World Trade Center. The walks, held in cities nationwide, began in 2004 and have raised $4 million for research and education.  [Not the sort of research and education that identifies such contributors to suicide as mind-altering, suicidal-thought-inducing thoughtsdrugs  – Ed.]

The need for such awareness, they say, is especially urgent in Oregon, which has the nation’s 10th-highest rate of suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2005, Oregon suicides outnumbered traffic fatalities 555 to 480.

The emotional toll is much harder to quantify.

“For so long, all I could do was just fight the tears, every day,” said Iliff, a real estate assistant who moved to Portland after her husband’s 2006 death in Philadelphia. “Everywhere I went, I’d see our favorite places.”

The couple, high school sweethearts in Michigan, had reunited after three decades. They were together for two years before John Iliff took his life, devastated by the fact that regaining love had done little to ease the psychic pain that had come and gone, and come again, since childhood.

“He just didn’t want to be a burden to anyone anymore,” Iliff said. “He just hurt too much.” He jumped off the roof of their apartment building and was found atop an adjacent one-story building seven hours later.

Radtke’s brother, Randy Di Pretto, struggled with bipolar disorder. He shot himself in February 2004, after a series of unpleasant events left him in a despair from which he would not recover.

Radtke, 34, often replays her last visit with her brother, her only sibling, in her head. It was just after Christmas 2003; the family had laughed, joked and watched “The Simpsons.”

“I get angry when I see siblings together, having a good time,” said Radtke. “I think, ‘He should be here, and we should be having fun.’ ”

Like Iliff, she has asked herself again and again, “Shouldn’t I have seen the signs?” she said, ending in a sob.

Discussion of suicide and its aftermath remain taboo, the women say.

“It’s a pretty hush-hush topic,” said Radtke, a jewelry designer from Hillsboro. And yet suicide claims more than 32,000 Americans each year and is the third-leading cause of death among Americans age 15 to 24, the suicide prevention group says.

Nearly 20 million Americans suffer from depression, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. Depression is a major risk factor for suicide. John Iliff, who had attempted suicide two months before his death, was distraught with his treatment. Insurance had paid for only three days hospitalization, and anti-depressants seemed only to worsen his symptoms.

“We need to talk, and talk, and talk — about depression, about suicide, about treatment options,” said Iliff, wiping away a strand of blond hair. “It touches so many of us, whether we want it to or not.”

She thumbed through a sheath of pamphlets. “I never talked about suicide before John died,” she said. “I never expected it to leave me a widow — and I’ll do what I can to make sure others aren’t, either.”

Gabrielle Glaser: 503-221-8271; gabrielleglaser@ news.oregonian.com