Don't Believe Everything You Think: Talking About Suicide - "...died of depression and suicide"

Sep 14, 2016

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. Please help us break the destructive silence and stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.

Eleni and Aletha Pinnow
Credit Eleni Pinnow

"Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth,  died from depression and suicide on Feb. 20, 2016."
That was the first line of Aletha's obituary as it was printed in the paper.  Aletha's older sister joins us this morning to talk about Aletha's death and the decision - to talk honestly about her suicide - that got the entire country talking.

(the full text of Aletha's obituary is reprinted below)


ALETHA MEYER PINNOW

Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth, formerly of Oswego and Chicago, Ill., died from depression and suicide on Feb. 20, 2016.

Aletha was born on Dec. 29, 1984 to Bonnie and Bryce Pinnow.

The parents promised a tiny baby to their older daughter (who was sorely disappointed by the giant 11 pound baby that came home with them). This was an auspicious start for Aletha, who spent her life defying expectations and charting her own hilarious and unique path.

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. It is impossible to sum up a woman so caring, genuine, vivacious, hilarious, and sparkly. Those qualities were so obvious to everyone around her. 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.

Aletha found her true passion in fifth grade when she decided to become a special education teacher. She graduated high school a year early to enroll in her future alma mater, Northern Illinois University (NIU), in anticipation of that goal. It is the ultimate understatement to say that Aletha loved working with people with disabilities (especially people on the autism spectrum). She was a special education teacher for over a decade and she was, as she was happy to tell you, awesome at it. She saw the potential and value of every single one of her students and she loved them with a ferocity that would make a rabid mother bear quiver.

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. Please help us break the destructive silence and stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.

Aletha was preceded in death by her adoring grandparents: Barb and Dave Ashby and Orla and Don Pinnow.

Aletha is survived by her parents, Bonnie (Momster) and Bryce (Dadzilla) Pinnow; sister/seestar, Eleni (Smelly) Pinnow (Steve Rosenberg), and BFF Sara Clark. Aletha is also survived by an uncle, Mark (Casey) Ashby; aunt Charla (Doug) Antrobus; aunt Theresa "TT" Ashby; cousins Stacy (Igor) Zapadinsky, Leslie Antrobus, David (Dorothy) Ashby, Phil (Lauren) Ashby, and Steve (Maris) Ashby. Countless heartbroken friends mourn Aletha with her family. Aletha also leaves behind her devoted pitbull, Asta Louise, and two cats, Fido and Ralphie. Because Aletha was so dedicated to her vocation as a special education teacher, she also is survived by hundreds of students whose lives are immeasurably better because of her, and by colleagues in Wheaton, Chicago, and Duluth.

The family would also appreciate if friends and colleagues would share memories and photos of Aletha with them.  This would provide us comfort as we find our way without her.

MEMORIAL SERVICE: 2 p.m. June 4, in the Church of the Good Shepherd in Oswego, Ill.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to endow a scholarship in Aletha's name at NIU. Checks (with the memo line "NIU Aletha Pinnow Endowment") may be mailed to: NIU Foundation, PO Box 746, DeKalb IL 60115-0746

Donations can also be made online at niufoundation.org/give with the endowment information included in the "Other" box.

The Mental Health Week on KUMD was made possible in part by the Human Development Center, Miller-Dwan Foundation and the St. Luke’s Foundation.