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Former attorney general recalls struggle with son's suicide
By Jack Komperda | Daily Herald Staff

Former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan speaks Sunday about his son's suicide during a fundraiser in Aurora for Suicide Prevention Services.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 11/24/2008 12:15 AM

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It's been another tough year for former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan and his family.

It was just over a year ago that Ryan's 24-year-old son, Patrick, committed suicide in the family's Elmhurst home.

"When Patrick took his life, we started getting calls from reporters and different groups who wanted to get our thoughts," Ryan said Sunday at the Suicide Prevention Services Harvest of Hope fundraising brunch in Aurora. "Our first reaction was maybe not to do that ... but as my wife and I talked it over it seemed as if that was the opposite approach we needed to take."

Ryan spent the afternoon recalling the series of tragedies his family has faced in the last decade.

Ryan fought and beat cancer three times. Months after his initial diagnosis, the couple's freckle-faced 12-year-old daughter Annie, the youngest of six children, died Jan. 18, 1997, from an undiagnosed brain tumor.

Later that year, Ryan's wife, Marie, battled a mysterious virus that initially appeared to be a heart attack.

"I remember sitting down to eat one day and (Patrick) was just staring at me," Ryan recalled. "He just looked to me like he was thinking 'I wonder if dad is going to die.'"

"Pat's life at 14 was changing very quickly," Ryan said.

He went on to describe his son's painful treatments for a rare form of arthritis.

Despite the family hardships, Ryan said his faith was a grounding force that kept his family intact. He urged the audience to continue their work fighting mental illness.

"We have to bring this issue out of the shadows," Ryan said. "We won't change anything unless we talk about it ... we have to speak out. We have to keep fighting."