I Told the Truth in My Sister’s Obituary, So That Others Might Choose to Live

“My loneliness and terror on the front porch was nothing compared to the absolute isolation that depression had imposed on my sister.”

Editor’s note: We reached out to the author after her revealing obituary for her sister appeared in the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.

The most alone I have ever felt was standing on my front porch on a chilly February evening. My sister had taped a note to the front door that said “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.”

She put an identical sign on the back door.  Even in the midst of consuming depression, Aletha tried to protect me from the full horror of her suicide.

I stood on the porch shivering from cold and sheer terror. I didn’t just feel alone. I felt like I was in a vacuum in the middle of space with everything I knew being pulled away from me. The universe was suddenly a very vast place and I was very, very, very alone.

After what seemed like an eternity, the police officers told me plainly, “Aletha is dead.” What followed that stark statement was a sudden moment of lucidity in which only one thing mattered: the truth.

I had to be honest. I had to tell the truth.

By the time I sat down to write my sister’s obituary I knew that the opening line could only be one thing: Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth (formerly of Oswego and Chicago, IL) died from depression and suicide on February 20, 2016. 

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 I went on to share with everyone — friends, family, students, and work colleagues — the cause of my sister’s death: depression and suicide. I told them that my hilarious, kind, generous, helpful, silly and loving sister couldn’t see any of that in herself and it killed her. I told them that her depression created an impenetrable fortress that blocked the light, preventing the love of her friends, her family, and any sense of comfort and confidence from reaching her.

My loneliness and terror on the front porch was nothing compared to the absolute isolation that depression had imposed on my sister. I had to tell the truth.

Depression lied to my sister, told her that she was worthless. A burden. Unlovable. Undeserving of life. I imagine these lies were like a kind of permanent white noise in her life — a running narration of how unworthy she was. After years of the lies and the torment, my sister believed that depression told her the truth. In the notes she left for my parents and me, Aletha wrote, “don’t feel sad, I’m not worth it.”

She was so wrong. Depression lies. I have to tell the truth.

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Eleni Pinnow is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. To make sure her sister is remembered for more than her pain, she has started a scholarship fund in Aletha’s name at her alma mater. She urges those who may be contemplating suicide to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or visit save.org.

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