Carnegie fundraiser to raise awareness about suicide prevention

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

The faces on her mother and grandmother told the story even before a word was spoken.

“They found your father,” Allyn Lewis, then 18, heard on that day in 2008. He had killed himself at the age of 45.

Lewis, 23, from Pittsburgh's South Side, just received a letter from him, but with a Pittsburgh postmark – a curiosity, since he lived in Florida. He apologized for fights and recalled the good times they had, but she had a bad feeling that soon was validated.

Today, Lewis, co-owner of Pretty Living PR on Pittsburgh's South Side, is focused on raising funds and awareness for suicide prevention and survivors. She has planned “La Nuit Noire” at Cefalo's in Carnegie on Jan. 25, to drive home the point that there are resources to assist individuals and families who wrestle with instability locally and across the nation.

“La Nuit Noire” means “the dark night,” but Lewis promises, “There's a light.”

Her father had anger issues, she learned, and struggled with depression. His mother had killed herself when he was 13. Growing up, he had little support, Lewis said. At the end, “He was too hurt, too broken. He felt he had no one.”

It was the terror of the suicide shadow following her that prompted Lewis to seek therapy and later, to seek out the local chapter of the American Foundation of Suicide Survivors, a national organization founded in 1987.

“There are so many what ifs, so many questions,” she said. “Maybe he had intentions of seeing me, but it was too much.”

Pittsburgh's foundation chapter is directed by Ann Mitchell, an associate professor of nursing and psychiatry with the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. During its 10-plus years, the group has raised $185,000 for suicide prevention, research, survivor services and advocacy efforts. The annual Fall Out of the Darkness Walk here has attracted 500 participants, she said. The International Survivors of Suicide Conference Day attracts attention worldwide.

Sue Wesner, director of the Survivor of Suicide program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Oakland, has seen hundreds of people — adults, teens and children — begin journeys of recovery since 1990.

“The impact is very different on every family member,” said Wesner, of Ross Township. “Some believe there is a hierarchy in grieving, that parents have more of a right to grieve than (siblings or friends), but each has a unique reaction to loss.”

Most begin with a sense of guilt, with the “Wouldas, couldas, shouldas,” she said.

It's not possible to know why any suicide occurs since those remaining can only see the externals of the deceased's life, such as disruptions in jobs and relationships, Wesner said.

“You can't control someone else's behavior,” she said, but “you can find a way to make sense of (the suicide), so you can live the rest of your life.”

Gaining strength from her own struggles, Lewis was eager to take this step.

“Cancer is a hard topic, too, but there are all sorts of galas,” she said.

The stigma surrounding mental health and suicide may keep many people silent, including those who most need help. Lewis's advice is personal: “Call hotlines. Find somebody to talk to.”

She is certain her mother would have dropped anything to help the man she had married. But he kept his pain inside, Lewis remembers.

“People told me, ‘in time, it'll hurt less,' but so far, that's not true for me. Losing him doesn't hurt any less than it did.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or

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