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updated: 9/11/2011 7:50 AM

9/11, Ryans' tragedies help us keep perspective

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The word has been on my mind a lot this week as I've been a part of our coverage of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and other poignant stories that might provide some real perspective on life's challenges.

One could argue things really went south for this country on that fateful day. Not to mention the horrible loss of life, devastating injury, but the attack brought another blow to our already fragile economy. The aftermath also spawned an unprecedented stepping up of security and, most would argue, a necessary invasion of our privacy to provide for our safety. There also were two costly wars, again in both human and economic tolls. A recession that bordered on a depression. And as a result of all this calamity, it seems that we argue among ourselves with unbridled passion and that we've never been more divided.

It's easy to get down in the dumps about this. Personally, as this newspaper steps into the Brave New World of actually charging for our online product, it's easy to be discouraged by the viciousness of the commenters who, for reasons that truly escape me, take great glee in predicting this company's demise.

But that seemed awfully minor when I scrolled through the list we compiled, naming the suburban members of the military who lost their lives in defense of this nation in the past decade. Or the pain still felt by their families, some of whom graciously shared their thoughts in essays that you can read elsewhere in today's edition.


Many no doubt have challenges in all that goes along with being part of a family, raising children. But what can be more devastating than losing a child? How about losing two children? Your two youngest? One to a sudden brain tumor and the other to suicide, which carries its own special stigma.

That's what happened to Marie and Jim Ryan, the former DuPage County state's attorney, Illinois attorney general and candidate for governor. And imagine your grief being played out in public. Ryan was running for re-election in 1997 when Annie died at age 12. And though they're no longer in the public eye, (Jim now teaches at Benedictine University in Lisle), Jim and Marie shared Patrick's story with reporter Anna Madrzyk in Saturday's editions. Their motivation is to raise funds for a program Catholic Charities runs to help children whose siblings have committed suicide. Annie's death took an incredible toll on Patrick, who was 14 when she died. But the son's death brought a challenge to the Ryans unlike any they had ever seen.

"People get broken legs, cancer, heart disease," Jim said in a video that accompanies the online version of the story. "They don't get suicide, they don't get mental illness."

Marie agreed. "Suicide is a different animal."

The Ryans say they might have been lost without the help provided by Catholic Charities, so they shared their story to bring light to the problem and also the first Patrick J. Ryan Golf Outing on Sept. 22 at St. Andrew's Golf Club in West Chicago.

"Mental illness carries a stigma, and it should not," Jim Ryan told Madrzyk. "We have to take it out of the shadows and talk about it ... "If no one talks about it, how is it going to get better?"


Even the less dramatic things give you a healthy dose of it.

We told the story this past week of Winfield resident Angie Williams, an AmeriCorps volunteer who was listening to an Alabama man describe how his brother had been decapitated during the Tuscaloosa tornado that killed about 50 people in April. But the man was grateful for his health and the fact that his sister still had her home.

"Here I was complaining because it was hot," Williams told reporter Marco Santana. "It opened my eyes to what my priorities should be."


Something to keep in matters big and small.