Things to Do Before Killing Yourself

I’ve seen my share of movies involving life insurance fraud and so forth. In fact, I just saw one the other night: Double Indemnity. So I’m aware that sometimes people arrange the murders of insured people, disguise their own suicides, and otherwise take extreme measures to cash in, on behalf of themselves or their family members. Of course, we have also had our suicide bombers and, before them, our kamikaze pilots, not to mention a world sadly filled with terminal diseases, credible death threats, and other factors advancing a sense that the end is nigh.

I suspect that people who are about to die tend to be preoccupied with their imminent demise. If, however, a person should happen to lift his/her eyes to the horizon, and contemplate the good or bad that s/he could do before the Big Exit, there may be many things worth checking off the list. I thought about starting such a list, but then realized that many others have probably already thought of this. So I ran a Google search. And, you know, I was right.

The first example emerging in my search was a book by an author who calls himself Professor Xavier Cortez. That book, and other materials I encountered, suggested that there was a need for lists of good suggestions on things that one might try to take care of before killing oneself. In other words, before you kill yourself, please consider taking advantage of your special mindset to write a book or otherwise provide some helpful tips. When you’re no longer afraid of the punishments that people may dish out, you may be in a position to achieve things that others fear to try.

In a different vein, people who plan to kill themselves may naturally find their thoughts turning to the classic “bucket list” of things to do before you die — the fun or challenging things, like reading the 100 best books or running a marathon. Some of these, being dangerous, combine both the idea of having fun and the risk or likelihood of eventual death. In Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, for instance, one character — a lover of fine wine — slowly drinks himself to death, in his deceased neighbor’s wine cellar, shortly before the extinction of humanity. It’s been a while since I read it, but I vaguely recall that it seemed like a plan.

My Google search also turned up a Yahoo! Answers post, where someone asked suggestions for things that he should do before taking his life. One suggestion was that he should pray for God’s forgiveness for such a selfish act. This, I thought, was just the sort of reaction that one might expect from a judgmental, uninformed person who treats religion as something to hide behind. She didn’t ask whether, perchance, he was in extreme pain due to some horrific disease. For that matter, she didn’t explain how praying for forgiveness would help, if he hadn’t actually killed himself yet. Suicide isn’t specified in the Ten Commandments; but if it is a sin nonetheless, wouldn’t you have to commit it first in order to qualify for forgiveness? Otherwise, it seems that a good strategy for any sin would be to ask forgiveness first, and then proceed as planned.

Then again, maybe the lady was just afraid of death and/or suicide. In that case, I guess her reaction would be unhelpful but at least understandable.

Another answer to that guy’s question was that he should seek mental health treatment. Not a bad suggestion. Sometimes a bit of wise counsel or a simple little pill can make everything look different. If nothing else, they may buy some time to learn more about the last big decision you’ll ever make. It’s much easier to kill yourself than to unkill yourself. With that in mind, let us continue.

Advice to pray for forgiveness and seek mental health assistance goes into the larger category of precautions. The general point is, before killing yourself, you should get your ducks in a row. It makes sense to make a well-informed decision, based on an accurate understanding of your circumstances. Apparently it’s common for people to change their mind after they’ve jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and such. In this world, timing is everything. I definitely recommend changing your mind before jumping, not after.

There’s another aspect of getting your ducks in a row, going back to the first remarks in this post. If you’re killing yourself so your family can get your life insurance money, or are otherwise indulging a scheme that people will probably investigate very carefully — which they surely will, if any substantial amount of money is involved — bear in mind that the investigators probably have lots of experience at this sort of thing, and you probably don’t. You may not turn out to be worth more dead than alive. As one sage put it, “If you think nobody cares, try missing a few payments.”

On the subject of timing, you might want to work up a rule for yourself, one that gives you some time to review your options. I decided, years ago, to hold myself to a four-month rule. According to this rule, I would wait four months, after making a firm and final decision to kill myself, before actually going through with it. I just never saw the sense of killing myself if it wasn’t absolutely and beyond any doubt the right thing for me. I figure that four-month period will give me ample time, not only to sort out my affairs and review my decisions, but also to explore self-therapy options like those listed at the Whistling by Candlelight blog.

There may be other precautions that are advisable for your particular plans. They may involve lawyers, guns, and money. They may require further thought. For instance, if you leave your body behind, somebody is going to have to clean it up; someone is going to have to pay for its funeral. But if you don’t leave your body — if, say, you tie a rock to your foot and jump out of a boat in the ocean — there may not be a gravesite where people who loved you can come to visit and think. Point is, there are things to arrange.

Along with precautions, there may be any number of destructive things that a person could do before or while killing him/herself. This is the category for everything from the suicide bomber to the self-sacrificing soldier. I can’t claim to set out a simple rule, here, that would cover all of the various reasons for murder and mayhem that might involve the risk or certainty of one’s own death. In war and peace alike, there have been many assassinations and other actual and attempted felonies (e.g., plots to kill Hitler) that have sought to make the world a better place.

Like those items on the bucket list, murder and mayhem tend to involve danger. When you feel that you’ve got nothing to lose, you may be well positioned to do dangerous things of another type: you could volunteer in some place where sensible people don’t go — again, risking your life, but this time doing it for someone other than yourself. Serving in war zones or nuclear power plant meltdowns; becoming a police officer, teacher, or other public servant in the worst part of the city (or, if you like, becoming a recorder and witness of police misconduct) — the list goes on. Just for the record, volunteering need not be long-running or exotic. You can pick up the garbage on your street, make sure the homeless people in your town have food and shelter (or at least a blanket), volunteer to drive drunk people home from bars, and assist in treatment of people with contagious diseases. If you prefer, you can counsel people online from the comfort of your home. And you can pursue these and other kinds of volunteer work while also indulging some hedonism.

If you want to do something really dangerous, try telling the truth. Just go to work or school and be honest with people. That doesn’t mean overdoing the harsh, negative stuff. The truth is rarely black and white. In one of the most frightening things that a person can do, you might have to admit where you made real mistakes, where you were hurt or cared about someone or something. The point is, if you have deep, dark secrets that should be told, tell them. You can’t very well complain about the dishonesty or falseness of life if you keep on facilitating the worst of it to the bitter end. And don’t just write it down. That’s not necessarily admissible in court; it can be misconstrued; and what you write may leave out important things that you didn’t know — things that could come out in a face-to-face conversation. God forbid, you might learn something. Write it out as your background preparation, if you wish, but then talk about it with people. Some of them are likely to surprise you.

One kind of surprise that often does occur: miscalculation as to how others will respond to one’s suicide. While the metaphysical dimensions of the matter remain unknown, in social terms the decent thing to do would usually be to outlive one’s parents. Not always: as acknowledged in a “Survivors of Suicide Fact Sheet” produced by the American Association of Suicidology, suicide can bring relief to some who remain behind, “especially if the loved one had a mental disorder.” Of course, one’s departure can be convenient to others too, as discussed below. But with very limited military and law enforcement exceptions, society is understandably unwilling to let others decide whether a person should stick around. So don’t be buffaloed into a decision either way. For virtually any extremely difficult situation that humans have ever faced, there are some who have decided to kill themselves, and some who have decided not to. This is your decision. Take your time, learn what you need to learn, work through it carefully, and move on as you, in your sole discretion, deem appropriate.

It will probably take some effort to avoid mistaken assumptions, when it comes to how others will feel about someone’s suicide. It can be hard enough to find out how everyone in a group really feels about where to go for lunch; the question of how they will react to suicide is obviously much more complex. Key emotions experienced by suicide survivors, as reported by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, include not only shame (which may amount to a feeling of being disgraced) and self-blame but also confusion. I wouldn’t assume that everyone will get the message you may have intended. This seems like something to investigate, so as to reduce the risk of being completely wrong about others’ reactions. Note also that people just may not know how they will feel until it happens. They may surprise themselves. (A note on terminology: “suicide survivors” usually refers to the loved ones of a person who kills him/herself, whereas “suicide attempt survivor” can ambiguously refer to the attempter as well.)

On another level, contemplation of suicide can lead to decompensation. Personal deterioration, in other words. One blogger observes that there may be no reason to brush your teeth or answer the phone if you’re going to kill yourself anyway. This viewpoint may make sense to people who are sick of life’s grand farce or fakery, or who are too depressed to bother. Note: if you’re that depressed, you’re probably going to do a poor job of taking care of things before you kill yourself. In that case, you should probably get yourself some medication and some therapy and get your act together. If you do ultimately take your life, you can at least try to do a decent job of preparing for it.

I’ll close this brief look at the subject with a general observation. A lot of people kill themselves because their financial, legal, political, or other circumstances have become unbearable. My impression is that people who kill themselves tend not to feel deeply loved, important to others, and significant in the world at large.

In other words, there are probably people who would be happy to see you dead. As Mark Twain famously put it, “I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” When you kill yourself, you are giving some of the worst people in your life exactly what they want. Once you’re gone, they will eventually get whatever you had — your money, your spouse, your home. You will no longer be in their way. If they are so inclined, they will probably be able to make you out to be a complete loser. And the things that ruined you — including the economic, social, and political realities of your world — will just proceed merrily on their way.

In that sense, people who quietly kill themselves are removing an important tool for social change. If you can get beyond your own problems, consider that staying alive may be, in itself, a thumb in the eye for the things that have ruined you. Or if you’re determined to die, try to die like that Tunisian fruit seller who burned himself to death in protest against his government and, in so doing, started the Arab Spring revolutions. Self-immolations on courthouse and statehouse steps are likely to get attention.

It may not be necessary to go to that extreme to focus public awareness on the conditions, whatever they were, that led you to this point. You may find that political or other movements, online or out in the public, have already identified some of the reasons why things went wrong for you. You might be able to make a constructive difference, in your specific problems, by participating in that sort of enterprise.

Killing yourself is not the end of the world. It’s just the end of you. Before killing yourself, try to make the most of what you’ve got. When you reach the point of suicide, you’re in a special place, in your mind, and there are positive things that can come of that.

Good luck.

* * * * *


  1. I have since written a separate post, on the inordinately male nature of suicide.
  2. This post was previously located in my religion blog. There are some reader comments there.

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