“My brother was a wonderful brother and uncle,” Sandy Raisanen said. “He was kind, considerate, thoughtful and he loved the desert.”

She was raised on a farm in Esko. She was the oldest of five siblings, including Annette, Barb, Dave and Brian.

Raisanen’s brother, Dave, took his own life four years ago at age 54. The guilt still haunts her.

She and her sister, Annette Mills, will share their family's story during the Suicide Awareness Memorial Walk on Saturday, Oct. 12, at Carlton High School.

'I kept hoping something would change'

Dave, who was 14 years younger than Raisanen, had a twin, Brian, who was born with severe Down syndrome, which took a toll on his parents and siblings. There were limited resources at the time. Raisanen found out later that Dave had been bullied at school.

A typical teen, Raisanen had an active life outside her family. She later connected with her brother when she was married and had children.

Dave began using alcohol after graduating from high school.

“He was really smart and got good grades,” Raisanen said. “He was an incredible writer and speaker and was very spiritual.”

When he was in his 20s he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He went through treatment and was prescribed medication.

Raisanan became familiar with the constant cycles of a person with bipolar disorder. When he was on the upswing, he believed he no longer needed medication. When he was on the low end of the cycle, he would fall into a deep depression.

Dave married and eventually divorced, but stayed good friends with his ex-wife. A few years later, his mother and ex-wife died. Dave struggled.

“Those two deaths affected him more than we realize,” Raisanen said.

“I kept hoping something would change,” Raisanen said.

Dave believed a change of scenery would help him. He moved to the desert that he loved so much.

Raisanen made the road trip with him to Arizona and helped him move into his new place, surrounded by rugged mountains and desert.

“I just had a bad feeling about it,” Raisanen said. She felt the timing was not right.

After several months, Raisanen's sister, Annette Mills, had a knock at her door. It was officers with news that Dave had taken his life. Mills called Raisanen.

Raisanens neighbor, Jo Angell, had survived a similar situation and helped Raisanen cope.

Raisanen tries to focus on the happy times. About 10 years ago, Dave had invited the siblings on a vacation to his favorite places out west. They visited Sedona, Ariz., near Flagstaff. They also flew in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon.

Stenman siblings, Brian, Barb, Dave (center back), Annette, and Sandy (front) with their mom, Elise pose for a photo at a wedding in 2001. contributed photo
Stenman siblings, Brian, Barb, Dave (center back), Annette, and Sandy (front) with their mom, Elise pose for a photo at a wedding in 2001. contributed photo

“Dave was always so kind and thoughtful whenever we got together as a family,” Raisanen said. “He paid special attention, making them feel welcome and of value.”

Dave worked for a while with mentally disadvantaged people.

Raisanen has participated in the Suicide Awareness Memorial Walk since Angell started the event after the loss of her son.

“After recently losing her brother to suicide, we thought it would be beneficial to have Sandy share from a sibling perspective,” Angell said.

“He is missed beyond measure,” Raisanen said sadly.

Raisanen and Mills will be sharing their story after the walk. The 11th annual free event, organized by the Carlton County Children & Family Services Collaborative, is 9:30-11:30 a.m. at Carlton High School.

Local Mobile Crisis and National Alliance on Mental Illness representatives will be available at the event to offer advice and information.

If you go

Who: Carlton County Children & Family Services Collaborative.

What: 11th annual Suicide Awareness Memorial Walk. Speakers Sandy Raisanen and Annette Mills will share how their family was touched by suicide. Local Mobile Crisis and National Alliance on Mental Illness will be available to offer advice and information.

When: Saturday, Oct. 12, 9:30-11:30 a.m.

Where: Carlton High School, Carlton.

More info: Meghann Levitt, 218-879-4511.

To get help

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text MN to 741741

South St. Louis, Lake, Cook and Carlton counties/Fond du Lac Band: 218-623-1800 or 844-772-4742

North St. Louis County/Bois Forte Band: 218-288-2100

Itasca County: 218-326-8565 or 211*

Koochiching County: 800-442-8565 or 211*

*St. Louis County 211 services are not crisis-related.