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Remembering John: Schenectady woman advocates for suicide prevention

Remembering John: Schenectady woman advocates for suicide prevention

Retired Schalmont reading teacher mourns death of her husband
Remembering John: Schenectady woman advocates for suicide prevention
Joann Perillo-Lasky has used her husband's suicide to advocate for greater awareness of the issue.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

Joann Perillo-Lasky was supposed to walk a different path.

She and her husband, John J. Lasky Jr., should be scuba diving and kayaking in Lake George. The couple should be meeting friends for dinner near their vacation home in Bolton Landing and exploring their beloved Hawaii.

John should be spending quiet rainy days with books. He should be thinking about his next bicycle ride.

Those days are over for Perillo-Lasky. She's on another path now, and she's walking alone.

John Lasky Jr. committed suicide on April 13, 2016. He was 56.

Perillo-Lasky, a retired reading teacher in the Schalmont Central School District, mourns the man and cherishes her memories. With others, she's trying to reduce suicide statistics and spread the word that help -- and hope -- are available.

Perillo-Lasky, along with others affiliated with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will travel to Washington today to demand Congress make suicide prevention a top legislative priority.

The group will ask senators and representatives to support:

  • Increased funding for suicide prevention research within the National Institute of Mental Health.
  • Strengthened reporting requirements for mental health parity.
  • Full funding of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
  • Maintenance of service member and veteran suicide prevention as a national priority.

Perillo-Lasky knows Congress will hear the statistics. According to the foundation, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2017, a total of 47,173 Americans committed suicide. That same year, according to the foundation, there were an estimated 1,4000,000 suicide attempts.

Talking about the cause means talking about John, the man she married aboard a boat in Lake George in 2001. The couple was together 10 years before they decided to marry.

Also see: Foss: We need to talk about suicide

 "He was kind, just a great guy, a fun guy to be around," Perillo-Lasky said during a recent interview in the kitchen of her Londonderry Road home. "He'd never show up without a gift for someone."

Perillo-Lasky said her husband was an electrician by trade and worked as an engineering control specialist. He was also a builder: Lasky earned a patent for his invention of a bailing machine used in the recycling industry. He built his own kayak and fly fishing rods.

Lasky was also sharp on—and under—the water. As a dive master, he used his scuba skills to assist in high angle rescue with the Waterford Emergency Rescue Team. Scuba helped "introduce" Perillo-Lasky to her future husband.

"I was a certified diver before I met John," Perillo-Lasky said. "I was with the Sunken Misfits out of Lake George.

"John used to teach a lot of classes on the 'Best Buddy,' which is the boat we dove off," Perillo-Lasky added. "Everywhere I went, I'd see a gear bag with 'Lasky' on it. Finally, I said 'Who is this Lasky and why are his droppings everywhere on this boat?' That should have been a big eye opener."

Perillo-Lasky eventually learned more about the man. Lasky was a Navy veteran who had graduated from Schenectady's Linton High School in 1977, where he was a standout on the Blue Devil football team.

After happy years together, things changed. Perillo-Lasky looks at a 2015 photo, Lasky seated outside a Bolton Landing restaurant, and now sees a sadness in her husband's eyes. She didn't notice the expression at the time.

Things were starting to go wrong in Lasky's life. 

"He stopped reading, he stopped riding his bike," Perillo-Lasky said, adding her husband often was concerned about his job status. She told him not to worry.

During the summer of 2015 he received treatment for anxiety and worry. He was depressed and on medications.

In December 2015, Lasky attempted suicide at the Bolton Landing camp. He was hospitalized for three weeks, and Perillo-Lasky remembers she didn't know where to get help. She didn't know what kind of programs were available.

Perillo-Lasky remembers wanting to talk to doctors assigned to her husband. But she said those conversations never happened.

"I should have sat there and said, 'I'm not leaving until I see the doctor,'" Perillo-Lasky said. "But I didn't have it in me."

Lasky followed his hospitalization with time at a local rehabilitation center, a two-week day treatment program. Eventually, he returned home. Once in a while, Perillo-Lasky would see glimpses of the man she married.

Lasky assured his wife he would never try to commit suicide again. "I believed him, I believed him, I believed him," Perillo-Lasky said.

Lasky died at home in Schenectady on April 13, 2016. Perillo-Lasky said she couldn't tell people what really happened; she told friends that John had suffered a fatal heart attack.

The rest of 2016 into 2017 were difficult times.

"I suffered memory loss," Perillo-Lasky said. "I would be driving places I'd been 1,000 times before, and I'd get lost. I cried all the time."

Eventually, she decided she had to tell her story. She joined the Capital Region chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

"I wanted to get involved in something, I knew I needed to do something," Perillo-Lasky said. "It was really a big part of my healing process."

She hopes Congress can help heal others -- before personal problems become personal tragedies. She said billions of dollars have been spent for research into HIV, human immunodeficiency virus.

"It's not a death sentence any longer," she said about HIV, adding suicide prevention needs more funding. "Until we can talk about this -- that's one of the big asks -- we get this out and don't hide it anymore. We have to talk about this."

"I want to see anyone who's struggling, I want them to know there's help out there for the people who are struggling," Perillo-Lasky also said. "For John, he's the type of guy who would have taken advantage of this.

"It might not have ended differently," Perillo-Lasky said, "but he would have taken advantage of this. He didn't want to die."

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]

Also Friday, June 8:

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