Why not die?

Three days ago, I got an email from a follower (I’ll call her Jackie) who asked if I could think of a reason she shouldn’t kill herself. I wasn’t surprised that Jackie was considering suicide, but I was surprised that she would solicit my opinion about such an important matter. You see, no one other than Peggy ever solicits my opinion about anything. My opinion is so NOT solicited (or accepted when offered) that I think of myself as like a reverse salesman—if you want to talk someone out of something, just send me to talk them into it. I can’t really say why this is so because my opinions are often excellent. After all, I’m smart, diversely educated, slow to act, a deep thinker, an extensive fact gatherer, and old enough to have experienced a lot of life and seen the results of a lot of decisions.

I was about to rake the leaves when Jackie’s mail arrived, and I wasn’t in the mood for such discourse, but I knew that I couldn’t delay my response lest the day end with my yard clean but my friend dead. Such an outcome might have soured me on yard work permanently. Besides, I was honored that she wrote to ME because—as I said—no one ever solicits my opinion.

I had little thought for what I might say when I sat down to write, but little trepidation either because I am more effective on paper than in person, plus I have given suicide A LOT of thought over many years as a solution to my own problems. Yet, I recognized that I probably had little if anything to say to Jackie that she didn’t already know. One of the downsides of aging is the realization that, aside from information pertaining to specific disciplines, you’re not likely to learn much from other people. This is probably why suicidal psychiatrists don’t tend to seek help. I mean, what could anyone possibly say to a suicidal psychiatrist?

The last time someone told me that she (it was a she that time too) had been thinking about suicide, she put it this way. “I was sitting in the kitchen with the rifle barrel against my chest, wondering if I would really pull the trigger, and then Dale walked in. When I saw the look in his eyes, it scared me, and I realized that I really needed to turn my life around.”

I thought this meant that she HAD turned her life around (after all, she seemed happy). A few days later, she was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest (that’s me, then Dale, and then her at the top of the page). If you really want people to think about you A LOT after you are dead, just tell them you’re thinking about killing yourself, and then kill yourself. If you want them to remember you their whole lives long as if you had JUST died, that will do it. Believe me, they will NEVER get over your death. My friend, Kathleen, has been dead thirty years, and I still haven’t run out of tears.

Anyway, I sat down to have a go at a response to Jackie based upon my knowledge that people who suffer from cancer, alcoholism, chronic pain, or almost anything else tend to get along better with the support of their peers than with the support of trained counselors. This is because they feel better understood and know that what they are hearing is real rather than theoretical. So, I told myself, I will be real. It’s really all that I had to offer. As I reread what I wrote, it seems woefully inadequate. Maybe you can think of something more.

Dear Jackie,

I’m glad to see from your letter that I’m not the final strand in your last string, but I’m still worried that you’ve sat by your computer all day becoming increasingly despondent as you reflected that maybe I haven’t written because I don’t care about you or because I resent your coming to me. Neither is the case. I simply haven’t been indoors.

As for reasons to not commit suicide, it is a subject that I think about a lot since I am often tempted. In my case, it would be an extraordinary situation in which I would do such a thing to Peggy without her consent, and she wouldn't give her consent unless I was in extreme and hopeless pain or suffering from a terminal illness. You too have relatives who need you to stay alive, so you too must behave responsibly. You must make suicide—when and if you do it—an honorable retirement from life, devoid of shame or failure. It can be, after all, an exemplary act; not an ignominious retreat but a sensible and well-timed withdrawal.

Suicide to me is like a get-out-of-jail-free-card that I take comfort in holding in case all else fails. Even without Peggy to consider, I doubt that I would do it anytime soon because I still have reason to hope that my health will improve, and at least a few things left to enjoy; but even if I were to lose both Peggy and these, there might still be some good that I could accomplish. If nothing else, I could comfort dogs at the pound. Yet, the temptation to kill myself is often with me when I’m in pain, or fretting over the fact that I have lived long but accomplished little, or feeling overwhelmed by the possibility that my health will get worse. I’m not a prisoner without means but a free man with guns and drugs, and I am grateful for them. I’ve rehearsed every detail of how I would make my exit, so it is simply a case of going to the station, so to speak, from which I would book my passage into the Dark Land to which all go but none return.

Anyway, these thoughts are what come without much reflection, but with the conviction that days of reflection would not yield anything more profound. I hope that you can find meaning (or at least pleasure) in your life apart from your family, but if not, you do have people whose own lot would be made miserable without you, and that alone makes your escape untenable.

“When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes into you.” Nietzsche

Just remember that suicidal thoughts can take on a life of their own. The more you dwell on it, the less frightening it appears, and the more likely you are to deceive yourself into thinking that the very loved ones who are holding you to life would be better off without you. I would therefore ask that you limit your excursions to only the outskirts of that cold land. Think of suicide as simply one of many options, albeit the last.

Finally, there is the wee small chance that there might actually be another life awaiting you beyond the grave, a life that will be made better or worse according to how you live this life. Imagine thinking that you are permanently escaping your pain only to awaken someplace where you are in worse pain and without even the appearance of escape. Such a prospect need not preclude suicide, but it should make us more careful to use it as a dignified retreat rather than a humiliating rout.

With love and respect,


patsy said...

goodness I can't imigian getting an email like that.Your boot post was more to my liking.

A Brit in Tennessee said...

Well that will make one sit up and pay attention.
I think your reply is frank enough to make one considering suicide, stop and think....
My husband's family has a history of suicides, it leaves loved ones left behind, that awful "what could I have done more to help" feeling.
I would be scared there was never an end to the suffering, and what lay ahead even worse.
Wow, I simply think you handled it perfectly, you were a friend, and gave an honest opinion.
Good on you.

Debra Kay said...

Very well thought out, and very well done!

Renee said...

From the very first I liked you. I liked you alot.

But now, after reading your heartfelt letter I see that I love you.

Thank you Snow for being the man that you are. Thank you for helping 'Jackie'.

You are an amazing person and I would never hesitate to ask you for help. 'Jackie' was wise to come to you.

Snow I am also very sorry about your friend.

Love Renee xoxo

Snowbrush said...

Patsy: "goodness I can't imigian getting an email like that.

But would not a part of you be honored?

A Brit in Tennessee: "My husband's family has a history of suicides,"

As do the famous Hemingways. My understanding is that, in some cases, there is a genetic component.

Renee: "From the very first I liked you."

Which is no doubt why you, a woman with four million two thousand and twelve followers (give or take six or seven) actually visit my blog from time to time. I go to your blog, and I read response after response from people who absolutely adore you, and I rather envy that, but I should also think you would find it a bit overwhelming at times--I know I would. I must say that, as nice as you are, I am at a bit of a loss to understand such a constant outpouring of affection toward anyone. Maybe it's a woman thing.

Renee said...

Snow there you going being contrary..... har har har.

Just another reason why I like you.

Love Renee xoxo

pink dogwood said...

I am sorry about your friend Kathleen, even though it was ages ago. I lost a cousin to suicide and it haunts me thinking I could have done something to prevent it - maybe called him more often? He had bipolar disorder and he stopped taking his medication.

I feel very, very sad right now.

Natalie said...

I would be honoured to have your opinion on just about anything. :D

Lydia said...

Any death-with-dignity-devotee would be proud to carry your letter turned laminated wallet card. I found it quite remarkable for its candor and creativity.

My cousin, Rick, committed suicide at age 27 after the 4th of July 1982. You are right. When I see fireworks I think of him....

(appreciated your plant advice)

Itch2stitch.com said...

I think your email was direct and right. Suicide is direct and no going back,and like you say needs a lot of thought and responsibility. Your words were wise, to the point but kind and compassionate. Suzie. xxx

Mim said...

God Snow - an awesome post. For a few days in college I worked the suicide line but quit cause it all made sense to me, and I could never think of how to talk people out of it.

A friend committed suicide a few years ago, on Good Friday. The only way I could reconcile it, and not be SO angry at him forever was to realize how sick and ill he was (bipolar). If he hadn't been ill, I'd still be pissed off at him.

As for Renee - we know she's human - very much so; but she isn't petty, or angelic, or preachy - she's just really a lot of fun and honest as all get out. She brings out the best in many people.

I hope you hear from Jackie again.

The Blog Fodder said...

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to...

To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
geek said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts on suicide here. I've been thinking of it every once in a while. Almost did it a couple of times.

Your words made me think, actually. I just want to say to Jackie, that dwelling on dark suicidal thoughts isn't a good life. Yeah, it's hard to get away from it if it feels like it's the only option. But even though it feels like it, it doesn't mean that it really is the only option.

I hope she felt better after receiving your mail. I'm sure I did.

All Consuming said...

I know enough on the subject myself to last me a lifetime, from both my own and others experiences.

I am credited by both herself and her then partner with once saving the life of a suicidal mentally ill good friend. For me, I don't think of it like that as it makes me sound like some kind of heroine when I just helped my friend when she needed it. She had tried a few times before in different ways. I very much empathise with your own experience of suicidal thoughts, tendancies, I have been there many times over the years and stared over the edge and therefore I understood exactly why she wanted to go and respected her choice, but had no intention of letting her go whilst I was sat there, I would have moved heaven and hell to save her though I fully understood she might hate me for doing so.

It seems alot of my close friends have at some point been in so much mental/physical or both pain that they stand on the edge saring into that abyss. None have yet jumped and I pray none do.

For myself I am still here for similar reasons to yours. I could not do that to my parents, and I would have left behind a torrent of misery with my good friends that doesn't bear thinking about. I don't mean to sound imodest, I would be devastated to lose them too.

Your letter was really well thought out and if it were I in that poor girls position I know I would be grateful for those words.

I can't think why anyone wouldn't ask your advice, you are a wise and lateral thinker who comes across as honest to the bone in his opinions. Which in itself can be a reason not to for some I guess, sometimes people don't actually want to hear the truth. Also I know many people who are incredibly approachable online but offline not so much if at all mcuh to their chagrine heh.

Oh yes, and the friend written of earlier is now stable and happier than I've ever seen her I think.

Thought-inducing post, made me shed a tear or two, excellently written as ever. xx

Diana said...

I think that you did a good job Snow. I really don't have a clue as to what I would have said.
My outlook on life is that I was never promised that it would be easy.
I am a survivor and a fighter and most times, not all ways, but most times this is enough to get me through.
But you know Snow, not everyone is strong inside. You did well with your words. Better than I am doing now!
Love Di
P.S. I did ask for your opinion on the Synvisc shot!

JOE TODD said...

Very insightful Snow. I'm wondering about the psychiatrists at Fort Hood.Maybe Jackie can find a "peer" support group. The right group can be a life saver

Anonymous me said...

I think Jackie is a very lucky woman to have a friend who takes the time to go through the practicalities of this difficult subject. I like the mix of practicality and warmth in your response, nothing over-emotional which could feed an already taut situation.

I popped over from Renee's blog just because I was intrigued by your response. I'm glad I stopped by. xxJ

Sonia ;) said...

Thats how I feel. That responsibility is part of the thought process of should ya or should not. Im too responsible..LOL..Thank you Snow xoxoxoxox Love ya sweet man

Marion said...

I concur with what my guardian angel, Renee, said. You are an amazing human being, Snow. This gave me much to think about and ponder upon in my own life. I love you, too. You're a great friend to have.

Also, may "Jackie" look to God or the Universe for strength, also. Blessings...

CreekHiker said...

Very thought provoking. I've had my own dark thoughts and never once considered what may or may not come after. That and the fact that I fear "messing it up" just enough that I would survive yet never be the same scares the hell out of me! I had that happen to an acquaintance...he has just enough brain damage that he's aware of all the pain he caused to his family, his body and career. It's sad...

Michelle said...

Oh wow. I like the way you said that. It spun me around a little but yeah, it was honest and who amongst us hasn't considered it at some point. I hope she read this post and what you wrote before the letter too.


Sarah said...

Wow. You are on my blog roll and I feel silly because i cannot remember since when. I add so many people then don't get the time to visit much. I am glad you are there though as you are obviously a wise and caring person and it is always good to read the writings of such people! Your reply to Jackie is so lovely and I hope it had a good effect on her. I spoke to a woman at work this week to express sympathy for her father's death and she told me straight away that he had commited suicide. It was such a shock and made me feel for her so much-more so than if he had died in another way.
I am glad to have visited you tonight so I could read this.

Anonymous said...

Why not - well, for me it comes down to this word:
be-cause; be and cause, because...

lakeviewer said...

Snow, she chose you for a reason, to be talked out of that decision. When we feel so bad that we consider the final exit strategy, we need comfort and a reason to live. You were clear, candid and logical.

I'm not sure what else to tell Jackie.

Margaret Pangert said...

Yes, Snow, your email will do it, will give Jackie a new, more positive way to look at her life and reason to live. Along with the common sense, you've reached out to her with warmth, caring, kindness.

Marion said...

An excellent post...and letter to Jackie. I rather like your imagining what may happen after suicide takes place.

All I know is...once a person in one's family or friendships has committed suicide, it tells others in the same group it is ok to do so. It can be a vicious cycle.For this reason, suicide will never be an option for me. I simply will not do that to my family and friends...the victims left behind.

My daughter was taken by suicide eleven years ago this December.

"I still haven’t run out of tears." Me, either.

Renee said...

Thank you dear friend. I am wishing you a pain-free day and since I know that is not likely, a day with much less pain.

Love Renee xoxo

Just_because_today said...

Good Lord, I don't know how I would have answered that email. Your response was unusual and that is probably one of the reasons why she reached out to you more the fact that she senses you are a caring person. I hope she listened to you and decided on living.
Very commendable of you to reply in such way

Gaston Studio said...

Snow, I,too, would seek your opinion about most anything and I can't think of anything I would add to your response to "Jackie."

I've lost a couple of cousins to suicide as well, and still can't believe that they each took their own life and didn't feel they had any other recourse.

My prayers go out to Jackie. I hope she maintains contact with you.

Becky said...

Wonderful response to a difficult email/cry for help!
As I watch my mother suffer horribly while she dies from ALS/Lou Gehrig's disease... I have been thinking about suicide recently... wondering what I will do if I come down with the disease in the future... endure this same suffering, or take the easy way out. Time will tell. Until then, I will enjoy every good breath and try to ease her suffering.
Love & Light,
OM girl
P.S. Thanks for stopping by my photo blog and leaving an occasional comment! You are a dear!

Snowbrush said...

I am seriously behind in responding to comments, and don't know that I will catch up with more than a few that especially seem to call for a response. If you expected a response, and I did not give it, please let me know. No slight was intended.

Becky, I didn't know your mother has ALS (or that you live in fear of it), and I am awfully sorry. I sat with both of my parents as they died, but was spared giving the personal care that can go with a prolonged illness.

Marion, I was likewise grieved to learn that your daughter committed suicide. I've never had children, so I can't relate to the loss of a child much less to one who takes her own life. I can but say how very sorry I am.

Margaret: "Snow, your email will do"

Thank you, Margaret. I had to laugh when I read this because it reminded me (for no good reason, I am sure) of a line from the movie "Babe." That was a great movie in case you haven't seen it.

Lakeviewer "I'm not sure what else to tell Jackie."

I did later think to suggest anti-depressants as an option. I've been on Elavil, Prozac, Welbutrin, Zoloft, and Lexapro, and can vouch for the efficacy of at least some of them--different ones work better or worse for different people. Just because a person takes them doesn't mean that he or she has to keep taking them--they can be used simply as a useful bridge across some of the deeper waters.

CreekHiker: "I fear "messing it up" just enough that I would survive yet never be the same'

Peggy's aunt shot herself twice--on different occasions, and ended up a quadriplegic the second time, and I know of a man who even survived a shotgun blast to the face, so your fears are reasonable but not insurmountable. For example, Meriwether Lewis shot himself simultaneously in the heart and the head, and I can imagine a person using a gun, an overdose, and carbon monoxide all at once, or else jumping off a 500 foot cliff.

Diana: "not everyone is strong inside."

No, some people kill themselves for reasons that would seem trifling to a stronger person. Yet, if the first person had held on, he or she might well have discovered strengths they didn't know they possessed. Such has been my case.

Geek: "I've been thinking of it [suicide] every once in a while. Almost did it a couple of times."

I'm very aware that you feel things deeply. Diana pointed out that stronger people survive better, but it's also true that an inordinate number of artistically and literarily gifted people take their own lives because their exquisite sensitivity makes them more vulnerable. If you die, all that you might have given the world dies with you. May you live. Please.

Lydia and Pink Dogwood, I was sorry to learn of the deaths of your cousins.

C Woods said...

I think everyone's first instinct is to attempt to talk a potential suicide out of it and tell him/her life is worth living and all that drivel that they have heard before. I'm not saying life isn't worth living, but someone seriously considering suicide is probably beyond accepting that it is.

I am wondering if the person had any physical problems. I had a friend who used to have horrible crying fits, sitting on the floor in a corner, feeling hopeless, and talking about killing herself. Her pre-teen daughter would call me, but nothing she or I did would help. We finally figured out that this was happening on a regular cycle ---it was PMS.

You probably took the right tone by frankly telling your friend your thoughts and starting her thinking without encouraging nor dissuading her.

I can't imagine how people are able to survive the most hopeless of conditions (for example, in a concentration camp) without killing themselves, but many of us have a strong will to survive even the worst of conditions. And yet, we are so fragile, that even a small setback does some of us in.

Besides the need for survival, we all need to have feelings of belonging and love, to feel like we have the power to control our lives, freedom to make choices, to have some fun, and we all need hope for the future. Some of us are in more need of one or more of these than others. Understanding which is/are your own greatest need(s) will help you know what motivates you.

I would guess that thoughts of suicide start when one sees that one's motivating need is not being met ---and if none of these needs are being met and that there is little hope for that changing in the future, one sinks into total despair.

I used to do some mediation and I think I would have used some of the questioning techniques I used to use, mainly trying to find out what the person wants or needs and helping him/her figure out how to get it and creating a workable plan to do that. That might give the person enough hope to carry on.

Bernie said...

You know Snow I don't always agree with how you don't honor your vows of marriage but I do think you have a special gift and I really respect how you spoke to this lady. You know as well as I do that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem..I feel so sad for her but am proud of you and how you addressed her emotions at this time.
I am truly sorry Snow but sometimes you amaze me with your brillance and sometimes you disgust me with your solutions, I am not critizing I am only expressing how I feel....:-) hugs

Rob-bear said...

I supposed I would have answered her letter differently from you. That's only because we're different people.

What I really like about your letter is that you were honest about your own feelings and experiences, and your took her expression of her feelings seriously. Full marks for doing both of those.

My experience is that I have had a couple of really good councilors, and few really good friends. It is the combination that has helped me.
Plus some really good drugs.

Donna said...

I found your blog via the "next blog" option and I have to say, it caught my attention. I've lost friends to suicide and as you said, they will be remembered every minute of every day for the rest of my life.

I've been on the edge of the dark place several times... and it always comes back to a promise I made to a counselor when I was a teen... I promised that if I made the decision to kill myself, I would not do it when it was dark outside. Somehow, no matter how dark it was the night before, how sad/mad/angry/depressed the world seemed, it was always not quite as bad when the sun was up.

He told me, as you said, that suicide is a valid option. Others who have not been there may not agree with that statement, but it is one option, but there are so many others. I hope your friend can see her way out of the dark place and get the help she needs (be it professional, pharmaceutical, friends whatever) to know she is valuable and valued.

nollyposh said...

...and i think you should add this...

"If you really want people to think about you A LOT after you are dead, just tell them you’re thinking about killing yourself, and then kill yourself. If you want them to remember you their whole lives long as if you had JUST died, that will do it. Believe me, they will NEVER get over your death. My friend, Kathleen, has been dead thirty years, and I still haven’t run out of tears."

...because THAT's the ultimate truth about suicide, it IS a way out but not for those left behind


Chrisy said...

I'm so pleased Jackie reached out to you. Your response contained much wisdom. I've just read your later entry too...about the surgery...all my best to you dear man for a painfree recovery from this one.