Caught in shock wave of spouse’s suicide — (San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

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San Gabriel Valley Tribune

By Marianne Love , Staff Writer

Glendora woman forming support group to cope with grief

Every time Julie Norton closes her eyes, whether it’s at bedtime or in prayer, the image of her husband of 20 years appears. Ron Norton hanged himself last year.

Norton, 57, has been looking for a support group specifically for those whose loved ones killed themselves.

Such groups have been few and far between, she said. Sometimes meetings are canceled because no one shows up.

So Norton has decided to form her own.

“I’m not a professional, but I have (Glendora police Chaplain Karen Davis) who has agreed to participate, and my doctor,’ she said.

Norton said her 61-year-old husband Ron an ordained minister who visited hospitals and jails was dealing with the loss of a job he loved, the death of two sisters within months of each other and her own battle with breast cancer.

“He was always crying, which he never did before, and he wasn’t sleeping,’ Norton said.

Norton said her husband began taking 10 milligrams of antidepressant medication in February 2004, increasing to 20 milligrams in May. A month later, he killed himself at their Glendora home.

“Suicide victims hurt once – they want to kill the pain. A suicide’s survivor hurts day after day reliving the death,’ she said. “It’s very, very important for those who suffer this loss to talk about it. I need someone to say they understand because that happened to them, or ‘I went through that.’ ‘

Norton said she wanted to tell everyone he died from a heart attack, but her daughter talked her out of it.

“There’s a stigma attached to suicide. No one calls me any more. I don’t know if they don’t know what to say or what,’ she said.

The Glendora Police Department reports that 19 out of 91 suicide attempts in the city since 2000 resulted in death. One person committed suicide in 2000, six in 2001, five in 2003, four in 2004 and three as of mid-March of this year.

“A majority of them since 2003 were hangings,’ Davis said.

The numbers are smaller in Azusa, where 44,712 people live. Glendora has 49,415 residents.

Since Dec. 16, 1999, 14 people have taken their lives, while another 57 attempted suicide, said Azusa Administrative Services Manager Gina Footdale.

David Kessler, co-author of “On Grief and Grieving,’ due in bookstores July 8, said bereavement groups in general often have trouble with high no-show rates because people know they will have to deal with painful feelings.

“Then mix in geography, practicality and work schedules … the stigma, shame, guilt or sense of responsibility. Many people would rather not fully open up about that,’ Kessler said. “It’s wonderful (Norton) wants to start a group because she can be a co-leader since she has had the experience herself.’

Ronald Beams, a grief counselor in the department of supportive care, pain and palliative medicine at City of Hope, said unless the bereavement group is national, the chances of it surviving are low.

“The most common type of loss is widow/widowers and then you get into family loss spouses, siblings but suicide stands by itself. It’s a unique loss,’ Beams said.

He said suicide dynamics are different than most deaths. Many times, a suicide is not anticipated, and about 50 percent of those who try to end their lives are successful on the first attempt.

Norton said she and her late husband did everything together. She said he had written in his journal that he wanted to take her with him, but now she thinks he was actually protecting her.

“I don’t want Ron’s death to be in vain,’ she said. “That’s why I want to start this group.’

For more information on forming a support group, call Norton toll free at (866) 431-2835.

Marianne Love can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2108, or by e-mail at marianne.love@sgvn.com .