Suicide Survivors Find Community

by Felicity Bosk

Eleni Pinnow, an associate professor psychology at UW-Superior, has been open about her sisters suicide. She wrote her obituary, where she told the truth about how she had died. It began in the Duluth News Tribune: “Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth, formerly of Oswego and Chicago, Ill., died from depression and suicide on Feb. 20, 2016.”

   Those left behind after a loved one’s suicide have a complex grieving process. November 18, Survivor’s Day, is devoted to those who have lost someone to suicide. Pinnow is hosting a Survivor’s Day event at UWS this Saturday from 3 – 5:30 p.m. “It’s important because suicide is really a different way to lose someone,” said Pinnow. “I’ve lost friends and family members, but most tramatically my sister, and it’s a different kind of grief when someone dies from suicide. It throws your whole relationship into question and really complicates the grief… There is a comfort to being around other people who understand this real challenging loss.” Survivor’s Day is described by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (ASFP) as “the one day a year when people affected by suicide loss gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope.”

  Pinnow said that being in a space to talk openly about the difficulties can be a powerful experience and can build community. She said that sometimes people who have not lost someone close to suicide ask questions that come from a benign place, but can be accusatory, such as “were there any signs?” “A big thing with mental health is people not being open about it,” she said. “When people realize they can be open about it, and can be in community where talking about suicide is okay and they’re supported in loss, they can grieve without rebuke.”

   Suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in the United States. It is highest among white men and firearms account for 50 percent of suicides according to the AFSP. “We often don’t ask people about their grief, we don’t speak about the person we lost. This will let people talk,” she said, adding that if this event is something you want to go to, then go. If you are interested in attending Saturday’s event, register online at asfp.org/survivor_day/superior-wisconsin or contact Eleni Pinnow at epinnow@uwsuper.edu. If you are in a crisis, call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.