Rena Puccinelli visited her brother’s grave four, sometimes five, times a day.
She just wanted to know why.
This futile ritual continued for more than a year after her brother, Reno, took his own life with a hunting rifle.
It has been almost five years since her brother’s suicide, and her question remains unanswered.
Rena Puccinelli’s grief was such a toxic mixture of anger, sadness and confusion that she felt compelled to make repeat visits to his grave. “I would go there and cuss him out,” she said.
Puccinelli’s feelings of resentment, helplessness and loss are shared by many Montanans.
For the past three decades, Montana has consistently ranked within the top five states in the nation for suicides per capita. Montana was ranked third in the nation for suicides in 2006, according to a study from April 2009 by the American Association of Suicidology.
At 41, Reno was in the second-highest age group for suicides in the state — 35 to 44. Those between the ages of 25 and 34 rank slightly higher.
Reno ended his life sometime early on Aug. 5, 2005.
There were no warning signs, his sister said.
“I never in a million years thought he would do something like that,” Rena Puccinelli said.
The day before his suicide was like any other. The brother and sister met at their mother’s house in Anaconda for lunch and plenty of laughs. They went over plans for a relative’s upcoming wedding reception.
Her brother was last seen alive at the Owl Bar playing horseshoes, as he did every Thursday night.
The next day, he was found dead in his residence from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“We were all blindsided by it,” Rena said.
He showed no signs of being upset or depressed. He said nothing about feeling suicidal. He left no note.
Family members were stunned after his death was ruled a suicide. Rena said they went over every possible reason but came up with no conclusion.
“Nothing made any sense. We were trying to put things together, but nothing made any sense,” she said.
For several months, Rena rarely left home, ashamed to show her face. Her father refused to speak about it.
A year after his death, she concentrated on work.
“I tried to stay busy so I didn’t have to think about it,” she said.
It didn’t work. She said she thought of her little brother every day.
Rena knew she needed help, but it was difficult to find counseling locally. Missoula was the closest place she could go to get “suicide survivor” counseling.
“I knew there were resources out there (for suicide survivors), but people in Anaconda don’t like to talk about his subject,” she said.
Karl Rosston, the suicide prevention coordinator for Montana, agreed that suicide isn’t a comfortable topic for Montanans. In fact, his position was just created in 2007.
Rosston said many Montanans have a “cowboy mentality” when it comes to issues like dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide. There’s something about the tough, hard-core exterior of the average Montanan that makes asking for help a sign of weakness. Montanans are not good at asking for help, he said.
Rosston, a former Butte resident, said the Anaconda/Butte area seriously lacks counseling resources for suicide survivors and people considering suicide.
Rena knows this service is desperately needed. She knows of five people in Anaconda who have committed suicide since her brother took his own life.
The pain felt by those who’ve lost loved ones to suicide cuts much deeper than an ordinary death in the family, Rena said. Dealing with the lingering questions and grief is a constant battle, she said.
“It’s not ‘one day at a time,’ it’s one minute at a time,” she said.
Though the pain of her little brother’s death is still sharp, Rena said she thinks she is making progress. She sees it as a good sign that the anniversary of her brother’s suicide passed last August without her noticing it until the day after.
It’s also a positive thing that she visits her brother’s grave once in a while and not several times a day. She no longer cusses at his grave either.
But she still asks the same question. Why?