Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Health

Hooper: Widow Wendy LaTorre offers unvarnished truths about suicide

Wendy LaTorre calls them the big three.

It was bad enough that a grieving LaTorre had to deal with the publicity from the high-profile suicide of her husband, William LaTorre, a year ago this month.

She described it as a pain so profound she struggled to get out of bed some days.

Then came the three haunts:

Judgment. Gossip. Abandonment.

Judgment? Some told her it was a sin or a coward's way out, even though experts say it's neither.

Gossip? People whispered that her husband must have been dealing with financial problems or marital discord. But that wasn't the case.

Abandonment? Friends and loved ones shied away from her, unable to understand what happened. It's an experience other survivors of suicide have gone through. Worse still, some even blame the surviving spouse or parent.

"That's one I never expected," she said. "These people that are struggling so hard with this crippling horror, then to add having to deal with being blamed and abandoned as well? It's unbelievably heartless and cruel."

The day after her husband of 38 years committed suicide, Wendy LaTorre publicly vowed to make it okay to talk about the issue. A year later, she's fulfilling that promise as a participant in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness Walk from 10 a.m. to noon today at South Straub Park, 250 Bayshore Drive at Second Avenue NE.

She knows she's not alone in trying to persevere. Suicide is the 10th-biggest killer in the U.S., ninth in Florida. Men make up 79 percent of all suicides nationally, and the fastest-growing rate is among men older than 50. Her husband was nearing his 74th birthday when he died.

Dr. William LaTorre made headlines in 1989 when the St. Petersburg chiropractor crashed his 35-foot speedboat into a 17-foot powerboat on Memorial Day weekend. The collision in the Intracoastal Waterway near Indian Rocks Beach killed four teenagers and injured another.

The next year, a jury acquitted him of four counts of vessel homicide. And although they thought of fleeing from the disdain that lingered in the community, the couple chose to stay among the love and support of friends. In the wake of his death last year, Wendy LaTorre said her husband overcame the bitterness.

However, after speaking with William LaTorre's therapist and reading his journals, she knows now that her husband, whom she calls Billy, suffered from depression — probably for most of his life. That condition only worsened after the boating accident.

The therapist treated him for post-traumatic stress disorder, but she believes his bouts with depression proved to be episodic, coming and going.

"He hid it well," Wendy LaTorre said. "He was always the life of the party, always laughing, always telling the best jokes. The boat accident never left him.

"He suffered terribly, was haunted by it, and from his journals I learned that his flashbacks had come back early 2013."

She believes her husband's struggle grew greater as he grew older. He believed his name always would be associated with the tragedy. Five days before his death, the LaTorres attended a charity event that honored community contributors.

"When we got home, he said he was never going again," she said. "I said, 'Why? We had a great time, laughing with friends, dancing and we always go.'

"He said, 'Because no matter how much I do for this community, I will never be nominated because of the accident.' That's how he felt. He had a soft heart in a cruel world."

Now LaTorre says her mission is to create awareness, not alarm. She emphasizes that depression can be diagnosed and treated, and that many people who suffer depression never attempt suicide.

She believes the walk will live up to its title, take the subject out of the darkness and bring more support to survivors. If her efforts help only one person, she will be happy, because "Billy would be proud."

I think the entire community should be proud.

That's all I'm saying.

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