this is if only [dot] org

how to write a suicide note

[CW: suicide, obvs.1]


So you’re planning to take your leave but you’ve hit a snag: you have a time, a place and a suitable method and now you need the appropriate accumulation of sentences to mark your fitting departure into

Except you’re stuck. Maybe you don’t know where to start. More likely you’ve got a lot of words but they’re the wrong words in the wrong order. If you weren’t feeling badly already (you are feeling badly already) this would make you feel much worse (you are already feeling the worst).

HELP IS AVAILABLE. As a semi-professional editor who has written many terrible suicide notes in their time to accompany some equally mediocre and badly-implemented exit plans, let me offer a practical guide on what you’re doing wrong word-wise and how to get it right. You already have so many regrets and this shouldn’t be your last.

1. Don’t.

Fairly self-explanatory, this one.

That’s cheating, you say. It’s not like you’re paying for this, I reply. But since you’re asking for more: nobody wants a suicide note from you. Nope. Do not want. You already think you’re an imposition on everyone, so why add to that? Maybe you’ve convinced yourself there’s some societal pressure to come up with one, but that’s just buying into silly clichés.

If you’re done, you’re done, and there’s not much point saying any more about it. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. There are lots of unpleasant obligations in life like filing taxes or telling people ‘no, I’m fine, please don’t worry’ every time they ask. There are pleasanter really-ought-to-do-but-hard-to-dos that aren’t exactly have-to-dos like writing thank-you cards for gifts or going outside. There’s no requirement for anything here.

(While you’re considering this: why not write a thank-you card for the last gift you received? Doesn’t matter if it was years ago, or if you haven’t been in contact with that person since it arrived, or if you never opened it out of paralysing shame and can’t bring yourself to do so now. Generic gratitude is fine. It’ll only take a minute.)

But-but-but? you say. And I get it. Not going to bore you with the whole ‘you are loved’ or ‘we want you to stay’ or any other platitudinous blahblahs that you’ve already considered and found wanting. Been there, done that. You have something you really want to say before leaving and you won’t be able to say it unless you’re leaving and until you’re leaving otherwise it would get pretty embarrassing on top of everything else and now we’re all rolling our heads. At least for now, given the abject state of your life, accept that whatever you’ve already written will be rubbish and it needs to be much better to serve as your last to the world. So, how about you get on with that thank-you card, then come back to this incredibly helpful guide once it’s sent off, okay? You may need to buy a stamp.

2. It’s a note, damnit.

It’s there in the name. It’s not a suicide letter, it’s definitely not a suicide essay, and if you’ve already drifted into page count territory… well, do you really want to be memorialised alongside the word ‘manifesto’? Of course not. You’ve lost the will to live (a detestable phrase) but you haven’t lost the last remaining trace of self-respect that hates embarrassment. (See part 1.)

There’s a whole thing about ‘this meeting could have been a phone call’ or ‘this phone call would have been better as an email’ or ‘this email should really be a text message that’s just a 💕 emoji.’ A similar principle applies here. The hallmark of every suboptimal suicide… let’s say, document is that it’s packed with far too much stuff that would be much better as something else— or more exactly, a lot of something elses. Unclutter it.

Take, for instance, that long loooooooong paragraph of open-ended questions. No, really: take it away. (I am very good at comedy.) Obviously most of them are just for effect, but what’s the effect here? If you don’t want answers, why are you asking? You can’t expect other people to help, especially by the time they receive it: it’s just burdensome and you’re heading out because you’re a burden. By now you should have worked that stuff out for yourself or decided you can’t. (You have almost certainly decided you can’t.) Either way, none of it needs to be there.

There are a few, though, where you seem to want actual answers, and you’re not going to get them unless you work out who to ask and ask them. You’ve spent so much time deciding how to finish things, so you might as well finish your asking. Here, though? Surplus to requirements. Unnecessary. Better as something else.

And how about the half-page that’s an imaginary one-sided dialogue? That person’s not dead and you’re not dead (yet) so mightn’t it be better as an actual conversation? Oh, they’re not talking to you? Maybe that’s because you’ve not tried having that specific conversation with them? What if trying makes things even worse— um, why are you reading this? Cut it anyway.

Then there’s the part about how being alive really fucking hurts and you can’t even escape it in your dreams any more and you want the pain to go away. Doesn’t need saying here. Everyone will have worked it out. Delete it, cross it out, be rid of it, unpleasantly surprise someone with it this evening and see how it goes.

Continue the process line by line, asking yourself ‘would this be better as something else?’ and I guarantee you’ll find more than you expect. If you’re a list-maker, make some lists; if not, just something-else each one as you go along and take it out once it’s something-elsed. What’s left will be much more on point.

3. Make an impact.

In spite of the time and emotional effort that goes into creating them, even the best-written suicide notes are – for some reason – not always read attentively first time round or repeatedly re-read by anyone but the author. They’re not typically saved on phones or placed in memento drawers for easy retrieval. Some aren’t even kept at all.

This is no place to be excessively clever or subtle. All those extended callbacks and knowing echoes and finely-honed but seemingly necessary cruelties will be lost on those who are more occupied by your recent change in circumstances.

As Dr Johnson said: ‘Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.’ And he wrote a dictionary, so he knew all the silly words that nobody needs.

Fanciness is your enemy here. (Well, living is your enemy, but also fanciness.) Be sufficiently direct to make yourself as uncomfortable as anyone else who might read it.

4. Consider your audience.

A suicide note is always written to an intended audience. However, unlike a personal letter or a thank-you card, it is not written for that audience: again, see part 1. Your audience is not always what you think it is even if you’ve decided in stultifying solitude that it must be.

Are you screaming in the darkness at a cruel, indifferent world? That’s pretty common. Understand, though, that the world is not only cruel and indifferent to what you do: it also can’t read because it is an abstraction. You’ll need to narrow things down a bit.

Or, for instance, are you writing this as a missive to the love of your entire life who you fucked things up with, or are you actually writing it to yourself, the fuck-upperer, the fucker-upper? (Again, not unusual.) If so, you’ve already found your ideal reader. More than that, you already know you’ll spend much more time reading it than they could ever bear. You already have.

Remember too that you don’t get to choose your wider audience. Perhaps there will be a random passer-by who only learns your full name from the news reports. Perhaps it will be someone employed to clean up after former people for whom you are another underpaid and necessarily dispassionate job. Take such potential readers into account and acknowledge that this wasn’t really meant for them.

5. Congratulations!

Finished already? Better than it was before? Well done: that’s your first proper draft. But as with all good writing, there’s still work to be done: the important thing is that it’s on the page and out of your head. Put it to one side for now and come back to it when you feel ready. Then start again from the beginning.

  1. 988 / 116 123 / wherever you are ↩︎