What of Suicide Notes?
The last words of a loved one may provide a small amount of relief, or may assign blame, or may raise even more questions. Or, more likely, there may be no suicide note at all. In fact, most people who die by suicide do not leave a note1, so those without notes also struggle immensely with the lack of closure they feel a note should help supply. But then for those of you who have last words, you will attest to the fact that even with a note, closure is elusive in death by suicide. It is so sudden and so unwanted that the last words of your loved one will never feel like it’s enough.
Whatever the content of the note, understand this: an individual who takes his or her life was not in a healthy state of mind during the act. Because of this, notes may suggest confusing themes or emotions, or ramble in a way that doesn’t make sense.
If the note contains last instructions, as most notes do, it is entirely up to you if you would like to honor those requests. Again, your loved one was not in a healthy place when writing that note, so there is no requirement for you to fulfil the instructions written. If you choose to, you may find that the final wishes are a way to honor and remember your loved one.
Should I share the note?
Again, this is a very personal decision. Generally speaking, it is not a good idea to share the note on large platforms, such as posting it on a Facebook page or publishing it in an obituary, as this could lead to copycat suicides. However, sharing the note with close family and friends may be a comfort to you or to the friends and family.
What if the note assigns blame?
We cannot stress enough that suicide is never the cause of one factor. Even if a suicide note specifies one specific item that lead to their death, this is often a narrow view of a hurting mind. In most cases, suicide is the result of an untreated or mistreated mental illness such as depression or anxiety, coupled by stressing life events and a lack of coping skills.
Could I have done anything to stop this?
You will be grappling with this question for the rest of your life. The truth is we will never know. We can give you this comfort: the decision to take one’s life is ultimately in the hands of that person. We may say and do all of the right things, be the perfect parent/spouse/sibling/friend/etc., and someone may still choose to take their life.
This is perhaps the most trying time of your life, and you will need support to get through it. You should not have the expectation of getting through this alone – so we highly recommend the following:
Start seeing a counselor or therapist that specializes in grief. Grief is going to hit you in a lot of weird ways and will take you on a rollercoaster journey, especially during the first year after your loved one’s death. Begin seeing a counselor or therapist that you trust, where you can experience and process your raw emotions. Stuffing your emotions or ignoring them will only make them come back at a later time even worse than they are now.
Reach out to local survivor groups. We have a few databases listed on our Support Groups pages that can help you find local groups of suicide survivors. By being around others who have also experienced a loss to suicide, you will find strength and comfort during a season that is hard to put into words. The strength and support of your fellow survivors will help you to survive as well.
Be honest with yourself and those around you. We process things differently, and people often don’t know how to react to a loss by suicide. Many people will offer empty platitudes or not speak at all for fear of making things worse. Be open and honest with your needs and your friends/family will gladly step up to the plate to help support you.
If/When you’re ready, become an advocate. Many survivors have found a great sense of healing by becoming suicide prevention advocates in memory of their loved ones. Reach out to local community groups to see how you can become involved. We recommend waiting at least one year after the loss of your loved one before reaching this step.
As always, if you are in emotional distress, you can always reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, call your local crisis intervention center, chat online at ImAlive.org or CrisisChat.org, or send a text to 741-741.