A Wisconsin professor wants to use the memory of her sister to start a dialogue about mental health and depression.
Eleni Pinnow wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post, “the most alone I have ever felt was standing on my front porch on a chilly February evening.”
A note from her sister Aletha taped to the front door read, “Eleni, if you’re the first one here don’t go in the basement. Just call 911. I don’t want you to see me like this. I love you! Love, Aletha.”
An identical sign was on the back door, Eleni wrote, adding that “even in the midst of consuming depression, Aletha tried to protect me from the full horror of her suicide.”
Eleni wrote that she felt like she “was in a vacuum in the middle of space with everything I knew being pulled away from me.” After police told Eleni plainly, “Aletha is dead,” she wrote that she decided to tell the truth about her sister in an obituary, which has gained national attention.
"Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth, formerly of Oswego and Chicago, Ill., died from depression and suicide on Feb. 20, 2016," her obituary in the Duluth New Tribune began.
Aletha was a Northern Illinois University alum and loved working with people with disabilities, especially people on the autism spectrum, Eleni wrote in the obituary. She worked as a special education teacher for over a decade, seeing potential in all her students and “loved them with a ferocity that would make a rabid mother bear quiver.”
“She loved animals, theater, Halloween, Star Wars, cartoons, preparing food for loved ones, and cuddling with aforementioned animals. She did not love France (they know why) and William Shatner (who also presumably knew why). Aletha was fond of making her mom laugh until she literally cried and helping her dad do anything and everything,” Eleni wrote in the obituary.
“Aletha was her family's whole entire world. She enriched the lives of countless colleagues and students. Unfortunately, a battle with depression made her innate glow invisible to her and she could not see how desperately loved and valued she was,” Eleni wrote about her sister.
Eleni said in her Washington Post op-ed her sister’s depression "fed on her desire to keep it secret and hidden from everyone. I could not save my sister. I could not reach my sister through her depression."
"I know only two things for sure: Depression lies. I will tell the truth," Eleni said in the op-ed.
“If the family were to have a big pie in the sky dream, we would ask for a community-wide discussion about mental health and to pull the suffocating demon of depression and suicide into the bright light of day,” Eleni wrote in the obituary. “Please help us break the destructive silence and stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.”
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).