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1) Introduction.
2) Setting goals.
3) Should I leave a note?
4) Grief.
5) What not to write.
6) What to write.
7) The writing process.
8) Conclusion.

1) Introduction

It is estimated that only less than one-third of people who commit suicide leave a note [19][20]. One obvious reason for this is that people who are about to commit suicide may not have much energy, whereas writing a note may require much thought and emotional resources.

Writing a suicide note is not an easy task. The main difficulties are to decide what to write, and how to write it in such a way as to achieve one's goals.

What to write: First of all there is a question of what to include in the note. Some people cannot find anything to say. For others there is so much they wish to communicate that they find the task overwhelming. There might be many people to whom one may feel the need to say goodbye, apologize, remove the burden of guilt and ease the pain. Such a note may end up being a novel, and require too much effort.

How to write: Yet even if one has decided what the note will contain, it is a different matter to put things into words. This is especially true when one wants to offer some explanation for their departure. Many find this difficult to articulate for themselves, let alone to write it down in a way which others may understand. It is difficult to write a note such that it cannot be misinterpreted. Another problem is to organize and condense the contents onto a small piece of paper.

Goals: One usually writes a note with specific goals in mind, for example, to explain why one has exited or to ease the pain of those left behind. It seems rather naive to explain such ideas in a note, when most people would probably not be able to understand you even if you talked to them in person. Achieving ones goals using a note seems hopeless, and is very discouraging.

Finally, those who want to commit suicide cannot ask for advice on how such a note should be written, since this may lead to intervention. Although there are books which contain collections of suicide notes[1][2], and there are suicide notes on the internet, these resources are not accompanied by any means of determining whether these notes have any merit.

This article summarizes dozens of ash posts about this topic. However, the main inspiration was a lecture of Dr. Dan Sharon of Tel Aviv university, titled "Suicide notes: the dynamics, the message and the coping of survivors", given on the 21st of January, 1998. Some additional research has been done, yet more is needed. This document tries to offer some assistance in the difficult task of writing a suicide note. It is hoped you find this useful.

In the next section we define the goals of the note. This article only addresses the more frequent and difficult goals. Section 3 tries to answer, given the set of goals we try to address, whether it is a good idea to write such a note in the first place. Section 4 lays some of the theoretical background related to grief. Usually grief refers to feelings of loss experienced by the survivors (i.e. family and friends of the one who died). This definition is expanded to include the future loss of the note writer as well. The lecture by Dan Sharon had the most impact on section 5, which explains what not to write, based on accounts of bad reactions of families to actual suicide notes. Section 6 offers some suggestions for things to include in the note. Section 7 is for people who are not used to writing, or feel that they are somehow "stuck" in the writing process. A final push and conclusion are given in section 8.

2) Setting goals.

The first step in writing a note is to determine what effect you want the note to achieve. Your note may have several goals. The following is a partial list of the more common ones.

  • Ease the pain of those left behind - This is perhaps the most common goal of a note: to ease the pain, for example, by removing guilt.
  • Closure - bring both the discussion (i.e providing a satisfactory explanation) and the relationship to a close. We do not want the note to bring up more questions for which there will be no one to answer.
  • Autobiography - a summary of ones life, or a summary of likes and dislikes, for example, a list of favorite musical pieces.
  • Artistic self-expression - this may be a poem, a short story, etc.
  • Revenge

Since a suicide note is very personal, many other goals are possible, so we cannot address all conceivable goals. This document tries to address only the most common goals and concerns. These are usually the issues which are also the most difficult to address, and therefore the ones for which an document like this can help the most. In the rest of this document we will only address the goal of easing pain for loved ones, and the goal of closure. These will take precedence over all other possible goals.

In the rest of this section we will expand on some of the goals mentioned above while explaining why some goals are neglected.

2.1) Closure

Closure is a state which includes the survivor's acceptance of what has happened, according to the last stage of grief (see below). In this state the survivor remembers the person who exited, however, the survivor can face it without hope and without despair.

Closure is more inclusive than merely easing the pain. A note may help ease the pain and help the survivor reach acceptance, yet the survivor may still not attain closure, if there are some troubling open issues, such as something that the survivor wanted to communicate, but did not get a chance to. Every time the survivor remembers, he may recall the uncommunicated message and feel sorrow about it.

2.2) Autobiography, Artistic Self-Expression

These goals will not be elaborated upon as they seem too personal for a general document to address. Furthermore, there are reasons against aiming for such goals in the first place (see section 5).

2.3) Revenge

Revenge is usually achieved by accusing others to be the cause of one's suicide. A revenging note tries to increase the pain and guilt of others.

This document does not address the goal of revenge. There are numerous arguments against using a suicide note for revenge.

First, there is a question of whether revenge is appropriate. It is difficult to rule out the possibility of revenge being justified and appropriate for some cases. However, In practice, revenge by a note is likely to be used too easily because there is no fear of retribution, and no accountability.

Second, the effects of a revenging note are hard to predict. It might be difficult, especially for an asher, to comprehend the grief caused by suicide and the agony which a revenging note might add to it. Not understanding the kind of punishment a revenging note might inflict may result in a much worse retribution than one originally intended. On the other hand, the reverse might be true. A revenging note might be dismissed since the writer is not accountable and may be thought as delusional or of twisted judgment. Therefore, if there is a true and just cause for revenge then the issue should be confronted while the person is alive to assure that justice is served.

Finally, in some cases a revenging note indicates that revenge is the main motivation behind suicide. Arguably, most suicides motivated this way are not rational. The anger driving the desire for revenge may make it difficult to think things through and make the right decision. Consider that if a person (or group) has managed to drive somebody to end his life then by committing suicide that person has won.

On top of these general arguments, there are additional reasons why revenge is not consistent with ash.

No matter what has been done to you, the way you deal with it is your own responsibility. Some people may have made your life miserable, but suicide was your choice. Revenge would imply that suicide was not your choice, but rather, it was forced upon you due to external circumstances. So there is some contradiction between using revenge in a note, and ash being pro-choice.

Finally, there is a deeper reason why this article does not address revenge. Revenge contradicts the ideas behind ash in a very fundamental way. The ash subculture stands for the acceptance of suicide by society. Revenge, on the other hand, strives to present suicide as tragic. The mechanism of revenge usually requires blaming somebody else for this tragedy. The bigger the tragedy the greater the blame and revenge. Thus revenge reinforces suicide as tragic and wrong. These are precisely the notions ash is trying to work against.

3) Should I leave a note?

There are many arguments for and against writing notes. Since this article is about writing notes, perhaps it is biased towards writing one. You will have to read the arguments and decide for yourself according to your own situation.

The introduction already provided an explanation of why writing a suicide note is a difficult task. There are also other more practical concerns such as assuring the recipients get the note at the right time. Such difficulties are valid arguments against writing a note, however, it is precisely the purpose of this document to help solve these issues.

3.1) All or nothing.

One common argument against writing a note is that it is not possible to write a note which will eliminate pain, anger and guilt. If a note will not help then why bother writing one? However, this presentation is too black and white.

Elimination of all pain is not realistic. Starting with an unrealistic "all or nothing" goal is likely to discourage one from writing a note. However, we can aim for a less ambitious goal which may still be of great benefit. Such a goal could be : to lessen the blow of suicide. So we can set out to do whatever we can to minimize the pain and guilt as much as possible.

Some research suggests that the content of the note has great impact on the reaction of those who read it [17], and different content evokes different kinds of responses. If this is so then one can write a note which would evoke the desired response, and bring us closer to our goals.

3.2) Consciousness.

A different argument against writing notes is typically phrased: "Why should I care about writing a note? I won't be around!". At this point it is possible to start a philosophical debate about whether ones death may cause the world to cease to exist in reality. Actually, it is not that interesting since there are many possibilities, and none of them are provable.

What we can say is that it is indeed impossible to grasp how things will be once you do not exist. However, the same situation occurs, for example if you lose your consciousness temporarily or fall to a deep sleep. Although you cannot grasp these situations from the "inside", you can easily grasp them externally, when you are conscious [6].

There is no problem to reason and care about what would happen in such situations. For example, if you are epileptic, you can imagine how people would react to a seizure of yours resulting in loss of consciousness. You can imagine this not through your own eyes, but through the point of view of somebody else on the scene. You can reason and care enough about those who may be trying to help you, by carrying a chain or some other means of identifying you as epileptic.

So the real question is whether you care about your family now when you are conscious. If you do, then you can do something about it. If you do not care now, then you do not need such a philosophical stance in order to justify not writing a note : you might as well stop reading this document any further.

3.3) The note as a physical reminder.

Some feel that leaving a suicide note may cause too much disturbance. They imagine how loved ones may huddle around the note and contemplate every word of it, how they might treat it with great care, or how after decades they would still cling to the note, which would serve as a constant reminder of your passing. Indeed these are sad visions, but what is the alternative? Not leaving a note might eliminate the huddle, but it may prolong the period of grief and make it more difficult. Without explanations or closure, people are likely to ponder for decades about the motivations for suicide and what might have been done to prevent it. This may cause more remembrance than if a note was left.

Furthermore, a note is not likely to be framed and put on a wall. It will probably be stashed away. Therefore there is no reason to believe that a note will contribute to remembrance. The physical aspects of how a note will be treated are disturbing, but the real test is how a note will affect the mental well-being of those left behind.

3.4) The unsent message.

Finally, not leaving a note can leave much devastation. A suicide leaves a lot of unanswered questions behind. Why did you commit suicide? Did somebody cause you to do it? Is it our fault? Could we have done something to help? Without a note, the inability to answer these questions adds to the suffering of friends and family, who might have to deal with guilt for the rest of their lives.

The point is that you can avoid leaving a note, but you cannot avoid sending a message. The message sent is one of rejection: you did not even care enough to leave a simple note, to say goodbye.

Not sending a message is most harmful with respect to closure.

4) Grief

By explaining what survivors go through when they lose a loved one, we can gain a better insight to what a note should contain in order to relieve their pain. Furthermore, it is also important to understand the situation of the one writing the note in order to understand what things one is likely to write (as part of their own process of "self-grief") which can act against the original goals of the note in easing the grief of loved ones.

There are various definitions of grief and descriptions of what grief is [3][4][5]. It is popular to partition the grief process into 3 to 5 stages, where the theoretical griever goes through the stages in sequence. This kind of presentation is made for pedagogical considerations. In practice, a griever need not necessarily have to pass through all stages; it is possible to skip some of them. Furthermore, the stages are not sequential. An individual may jump back and forth between different stages, return to the same stage repeatedly, or be in several stages simultaneously.

4.1) The 5 stages of receiving catastrophic news.

In [4], Elisabeth Kubler-Ross presents 5 stages terminally ill persons may go through upon learning of their terminal illness. The stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

In denial the patient denies their own illness. This is a crude temporary defense which functions as a buffer after shocking news. Later this is replaced by less radical defense mechanisms. The degree of denial depends on how unexpected the news is, how have the patients been told of their illness.

In the stage of anger, the illness is acknowledged. Anger may directed at everyone, almost at random.

Bargaining is an attempt to make an imaginary agreement to postpone inevitable death. It includes a self-imposed deadline, until which the patient still wants to live. It is also implicit that the patient will not ask for another postponement if this one is granted. However, patients usually keep bargaining as long as they can.

In depression the patient experiences an intense sense of loss. Two kinds of depression are distinguished. Reactive depression is caused by reaction to the practical consequences of their illness: loss of job, inability to function as a parent, loss of physical appearance, etc. Preparatory depression is the preparatory grief that the patient has to undergo in order to prepare for final separation from everything loved, from the world.

In the final stage of acceptance the patient is neither angry not depressed. The pain is gone, the struggle is over. The patient is ready to die.

In [5] it is noted that these 5 stages can be applied to any situation where bad news is received. Death need not be involved. They give the following example of bad news: the dead car battery. You start the car but you here nothing but a grind; the battery is dead:

  1. Denial: You try to start it again! And again. You may check to make sure the radio, heater, lights, etc. are off and then..., try again.
  2. Anger: "%$@^##& car!", "I should have junked you years ago." Did you slam your hand on the steering wheel? I have. "I should just leave you out in the rain and let you rust."
  3. Bargaining: (realizing that you're going to be late for work) "Oh please car, if you will just start one more time I promise I'll buy you a brand new battery, get a tune up, new tires, belts and hoses, and keep you in perfect working condition.
  4. Depression: "Oh God, what am I going to do. I'm going to be late for work. I give up. My job is at risk and I don't really care any more. What's the use".
  5. Acceptance: "OK. It's dead. Guess I had better call the Auto Club or find another way to work. Time to get on with my day; I'll deal with this later."

As for the definition of grief, there are many possibilities to define it. A common definition is: "grief is the normal response to the loss of a loved one by death". According to this definition, suicide or terminally-ill patients are not grieving. However, throughout the years more inclusive definitions of grief emerged[5].

One such inclusive definition equates change, loss and grief[5]. A change of circumstance of any kind causes a change from one state to another. This produces a loss: a loss of the first state. This will produce a grief reaction. The intensity of the grief reaction depends on the perceived significance of the loss.

Using this inclusive definition, it is possible to classify all the cases, the terminally ill patient, the suicide survivor, and the one who intends to commit suicide, as grief processes.

4.2) The 4 stages of grief for loss of a loved one.

The death of a loved one is catastrophic news, thus the 5 stages above can be used as a starting point to describe grief in such a situation. But not all stages are relevant. For example, bargaining is much more relevant for the terminally ill, since they are bargaining for the postponement of an event that has not happened yet. Suicide survivors cannot bargain with the death of their loved one, since it has already occurred.

For the purpose of grief over the death of someone close, a different common partition is used, with four stages: denial, guilt, anger, and acceptance.

The degree of denial depends on how unexpected the suicide is. Also, if the body is not recognizable, this may contribute to denial.

Numerous studies have documented the guilt and acceptance of blame followed by suicide [7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]. In [9] guilt is attributed to the following:

  1. Being unaware of the suicidal intent.
  2. Not having prevented the suicide.
  3. Feeling somehow responsible for the event.
  4. Regretting other relationship issues from the past.

Another source of guilt is the relief often experienced by suicide survivors when the one who committed suicide was a disruptive force in the family, which is often the case.

In addition, the views of members of society, whether real or imagined by survivors, reflect the stigma of suicide and implicitly blame the family for contributing to the suicide [15][16].

As a final note, it is important to understand that this process is a healthy one. No note is going to bring your loved ones immediately to acceptance, and you should not try to make that your goal. Of course we would like the note to make the process easier, but it should not attempt to cause grievers to skip over stages.

4.3) Factors affecting grief

[18] suggests the following main factors which influence the degree of bereavement:

  1. The personality of the survivor prior to the event.
  2. The quality of the relationship with the deceased.
  3. The circumstances of the suicide.

A suicide note may have an effect on the latter two factors.

4.4) Suicide: preparatory grief.

There are not many sources about the stages which one who intends to commit suicide goes through. The grief of those left behind is better researched in this regard since grievers may seek psychological assistance, and mental health professionals may be able to follow and document the different stages of grief. However, one who intends to commit suicide is likely to avoid and contact or discussions related to their plans and situation.

The terminally-ill patient and someone who intends to commit suicide are similar in that their grief is about impending death. However, there is a great difference since for one who is to commit suicide, death is self-inflicted.

Indeed the stages of denial and anger do not seem relevant to the suicidal. However, stages of bargaining and depression are present for many suicidal people.

For the purpose of this article, bargaining is of particular interest. For a terminally-ill patient, bargaining is somewhat limited. As the illness progresses patients may realize that their time is over. However, for one intending to commit suicide, bargaining can continue indefinitely since it is their decision.

For the suicidal, bargaining can take form as setting a deadline. They might only want to live until their 30th birthday, until some specific date, or special event. Of course, when the deadline arrives they may find that they are not ready to exit, and thus set a new deadline.

Writing a suicide note can be used as a means of bargaining. In some cases, one may choose to exit only after writing a satisfactory note, But since their note is never complete, they manage to postpone their exit indefinitely.

If you find yourself investing too much time in your note, perhaps you are simply not ready to exit. This does not mean that you should finish the note and exit immediately. Perhaps your bargaining is an indication that you have to rethink your suicidal intentions. Anyway, this issue is something you should be aware of.

5) What not to write

It is easier to explain how not to write a note. Psychologists dealing with family of one who committed suicide can see the effect of a bad note. Most of the recommendations made here are taken from a lecture about such events.

5.1) Wills

In this article, a "will" means any kind of request from family and friends. There are wills which are reasonable and logical to include. These are mostly intentional wills which are a result of much deliberate thought.

The dangerous wills are unintentional. Survivors read a suicide note with great care and may misinterpret self-reflection, wishful thinking or even blessings as wills to be rigorously followed.

For example, it would seem almost natural to include sentences such as "Don't be angry at me", or "Don't feel guilty". These are intended more as wishful thinking but may be misinterpreted as wills, and cause much damage.

Your loved ones might try to control their feelings according to your "will". However, people have limited control over their feelings, and thus are not likely to able to follow such wills. This may compound their grief with additional guilt for not being able to follow your last wishes. Furthermore, recall that grief is a healthy process. By trying to stop or quicken this process artificially, survivors may find it more difficult to resolve their grief.

As another example, in one note, the writer, as part of saying goodbye to his sister, wished that she be the best piano player she could be. The writer was just wishing her success in what she had already chosen. However, this was interpreted as a will. Subsequently, the sister, under the burden of fulfilling the will, could not approach the piano.

It is as if a "ghost" was left behind to watch over the performance of the sister. Such a ghost does not allow one to accept the new situation, instead one is constantly reminded of the ghost's presence and is forced to deal with it.

In order to avoid the possibility of such misinterpretations, be careful of how you word your note. Do not tell others how they should feel, what they should think, or what they should do.

5.2) Ambiguity and contradiction

Since you will not be around to explain the note, it should be clear and consistent. In some notes readers are likely to see contradictions in explanations about why one has chosen to exit.

In this choice there are always arguments for and against. Some might be tempted to explain all these arguments, but this is a mistake. Readers are likely to cling on to the arguments against committing suicide, and misunderstand what you are trying to say. If you wish to provide an explanation about why you exited, you should only provide the arguments in favor of exiting. Explain your final decision, not the entire deliberation process.

5.3) Autobiographies

An autobiography is likely to be long. This makes the note more difficult to write and easier to misinterpret.

For example, most lives will have at least some points of enjoyment or success. Reading such events may cause confusion: if your life had good sides then why did you commit suicide?

If it is a source of confusion then you have to ask yourself: why include an autobiography? What purpose does this serve?

Perhaps writing an autobiography is more about your own self-grief than the grief of the survivors. Writing an autobiography may be a way for you to achieve closure, by summarizing your life.

If you want to write an autobiography, then ask yourself if you are writing it for the survivors or for yourself. If you are writing it for yourself then why include it in a suicide note which is intended for others to read?

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't write an autobiography, but you do not have to include it in your note. For example, it can be put in a diary. Your family may still be able to read it this way. Moving the autobiography from the suicide note makes both the note and the autobiography less loaded and less prone to misinterpretation.

5.4) Hidden meanings and artistic expression

An expressive, communicative poem might be a good way of conveying your feelings to survivors, but this has to be done carefully, since you will not be around to explain the poem once you are gone. However, in general artistic expression it is not recommended.

You may want to write something "deep". This could be a cryptic note with hidden meanings, or a poem or short story which requires deciphering and interpretation. An obvious reason against this is that people might not understand your intentions; this may prove to be very frustrating for survivors. Eventually, they might consider the note as nonsense, and an indication of your irrational thinking when you were about to end it all.

The desire to write something deep is understandable. Your note is you last chance to obtain appreciation from the ones you love. However, this desire is part of your own process of grief, providing closure and self-fulfillment. But it will probably not help those left behind, which is our main goal.

Artistic self-expression may also be a means of bargaining the postponement of your exit. Your creation may never be good enough for you, thus providing an excuse to delay your exit indefinitely. This is another way in which artistic self-expression is playing more of a part in your grief process than in that of your loved ones.

Even if you do manage to create a spectacular piece this may have a bad impact on survivors. It might make yourself appear larger than life, and lead to appreciation which will convince people that the world will be a worse place without you. Since the loss is greater then so is the grief. This is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

To summarize, trying to write a deep note, does not serve the main goals of the note and makes writing the note much more difficult. If you really feel the need for self expression, you can still do that, but why include it in the suicide note? As for autobiographies, you can write everything you want in a separate diary.

5.5) Belittling yourself

You might consider to describe yourself as insignificant, or useless. Perhaps you believe it is true, or maybe you think that this would make your suicide easier to accept.

In reality those who love you will not be convinced by your attempts to lessen your importance. For them you were significant. On the other hand, your attempts to belittle yourself may cause much feelings of guilt for not caring and talking to you more, and thus make you feel more worthy in your own eyes.

5.6) Self-blame and forgiveness

It is obvious that blaming others for your suicide would probably cause them great guilt. However, blaming oneself can also be problematic. Self-blame may be a way to take responsibility for the problems in the relationship with those left behind, and also take responsibility for the decision to exit. If this is the intent then the note might also contain messages of forgiveness, to further remove responsibility of others. However, forgiveness implies blame that is recognized, but the note writer is willing to overlook or provide closure with regard to it. So the blame is there, and it difficult to resolve when communicating via a note.

Some researchers speculate that a note that stresses forgiveness can lead to excessive guilt in the survivor [8]. In one case study [21], a girl who committed suicide forgave her mother in her note. The mother, in turn experienced intense guilt about her role as a parent to the point of being considered a suicide risk.

An interesting study tried to compare the effect of various types of notes on the spouse[17]. They used fabricated suicide notes of four types:

  1. Neutral : expressing no explicit emotion and taking the form of a will.
  2. Other-blaming : placing complete blame on the spouse with no inclusion of forgiveness.
  3. Incongruent : expressing a combination of love, forgiveness and blame of the spouse.
  4. Self-blaming : expressing self-blame and love and comfort toward the spouse.

The notes were based on genuine notes but identifying information was removed and the notes were rewritten to conform to one of the four types. The study participants were given all notes and a questionnaire.

As the study was done by giving fabricated notes to people who know that their spouses did not commit suicide, one may question whether the results of such study carry to real life situations. However, it is not possible to conduct a similar scientifically controlled experiment using real cases of suicide. So drawing any conclusions for what would be a good real-life note should be done with caution.

Still there are some interesting results. First of all, the participants reacted differently to different notes (the implication for us is that there is indeed a point in considering how a suicide note should be written). But beyond this it was found that the self-blaming note elicited the greatest amount of emotional discomfort. The other-blaming and incongruent were not significantly different than each other in terms of emotional impact, but they evoked more distress than the neutral note.

Although other-blaming notes produced the most guilt and anger, they also provided the most relief, probably as a result of being out of troubled relationship with the deceased. Elsewhere it has been suggested that this feeling of relief is frequently accompanied by guilt [10].

The self-blaming note generated distress and confusion. Participants were upset by the notion that someone who "loved" them also could commit suicide and leave them.

It is difficult to draft some general recommendations from these studies. Survivors seek explanations and blame. Self-blame and forgiveness imply something wrong, something the survivors might have been able to change. This provides an opportunity for guilt. It may be that your case calls for use of self-blame and forgiveness, just do so with care.

It is possible to avoid self-blame or other-blame, without sounding like a will, by focusing on how exiting as a positive decision, instead of explaining how your shortcomings have led you to this choice. However, it might be more difficult to avoid forgiveness, especially if you have obviously troubled relations with people or if you were significantly and obviously wronged. In this case, the survivors will feel guilty even if you do not mention these issues, so offering forgiveness might be better after all. However, if the survivors do not perceive to have done you wrong then there seems little reason to mention cases for which you perceive to have been wronged and to offer forgiveness.

5.7) Humor

Some may try to soften the blow of suicide with humor. However, this may be even more devastating to your loved ones since it might make them feel as though you regarded their love, concern, and mourning for you as trivial. This may prove to be very insulting, and is likely to cause anger.

Perhaps you see your own life as absurd, trivial or worthless. You wouldn't be the first one to feel like that. However, your loved ones are likely to value your existence far more than than you value your own. Be careful not to project your own feelings and thoughts onto those close to you. Do not use humor, as this may belittle feelings of grief, which you may not be able to fully grasp.

6) What to write.

This article does not contain any templates or examples for a note. A note is usually the last productive thing created. It is the last communication from you to the survivors. Copying it from another source will make it not yours. Readers may detect that this is not your style, or even worse: they may find the source from which you have copied your note. This might belittle the value of the note. Furthermore, since notes are very personal, they vary too much. No template could answer all possible situations.

If you are having difficulties in writing, you could read notes of others. Try [1], or search the internet. However, try to use your own words when writing the final note.

The following are only suggestions. Read through them and pick the ideas which you think would serve you best.

6.1) Identification

Depending on how your body will be found, you might need to leave some identification of yourself and of someone to contact.

6.2) Organization.

One possible approach to writing a suicide note is that it should help survivors through the stages of grief. Using the 4 stages to determine different sections of the note can help in its organization.

The amount of attention devoted to each stage depends upon the specific circumstances of your suicide.

6.3) Why.

The main question you may want to answer is "why did you commit suicide?". The following are some points to consider, however, these are just suggestions which are not based on any research. You should judge for yourself if you think they could be beneficial.

First, do not describe the entire decision process (which may include arguments against suicide). You should only talk about reasons why you decided to commit suicide.

If you have tried other avenues to improve your situation, and failed then you might want to mention this, because it indicates that you tried to help yourself.

Still, after all these arguments, your case might appear superficial. What we want is an explanation which survivors can understand yet not be able to contend. For example, if your reason is depression then survivors can ask why you did not try a different therapy. If your reason is some crises then survivors might contend the way you handled the crises and claim you should have waited longer till the crises has passed. Such unanswered claims interfere with acceptance and closure.

One tactic to make your case stronger is to emphasize your subjective reaction to events. Instead of giving some event as a reason for exiting, explain the reason as your reaction and feelings about that event. Other people may have reacted differently, but they are not you. This approach is more difficult to contend.

A related distinction is whether you describe your death as an event or as a decision. In your efforts to show how rational your death was, you may wish portray your situation, or the sequence of events which led to it, as making the option of suicide far more preferable than staying alive. You may even be tempted to claim that suicide was the only possible option. The objective here is to convince the readers that you have made the right decision. However, there is a different way to look at this. Essentially, the approach presented above aims to convince that suicide was an inevitable event, like a flood or a tornado. Given the situation, you could make no other decision. However, since you had no choice, this means that to stop your death, the only thing that could have been done was to somehow change the situation, a situation which your family and friends are part of, and play a role within. So portraying your death as an event, where you had no choice, implicitly puts the blame on those which are left behind.

Instead, perhaps emphasizing your exit as a decision may be more helpful. Given your situation, you had options, but you decided to take the one you thought was best. Your family may still feel guilty for not changing the situation, but the situation could have been very different and you would have still decided to exit, because at the end it was your decision. In describing your death as a decision you are taking responsibility for your actions, whereas if your death is an event then it was not your fault at all: it was just a deterministic consequence of your situation, which could only be changed by other people. Taking responsibility may lift the burden of responsibility and guilt from your loved ones.

Another approach is "existential". One could argue that the deeper reason for any suicide is that life has somehow lost its meaning. The superficial reasons mentioned before have somehow yanked whatever we have found to give meaning to our lives under our feet. According to this interpretation, it is not our reasons to die which are superficial - it is the reasons we wanted to live in the first place. Having the superficial reasons to live exposed, and the meaningless reality revealed, with no will to live or breath new meaning into our life, wanting to die may seem more acceptable and understandable.

6.4) Guilt.

Reassured everyone that they should not blame themselves; it wasn't their fault. Furthermore, nothing could have been done to help or change your mind.

6.5) Anger.

To avoid the survivors to blame others for your death, you can mention people, groups or institutions which survivors might blame and clear them of responsibility of your death.

You can also state that the choice to exit was yours and only yours. Nobody tried to persuade, encourage, or assist your exit.

6.6) Acceptance.

You might try to explain that you are better off now, and you would have suffered had you continued to live. That you do not see your exit as a tragic event.

6.7) Closure.

Apologies and goodbyes. There is not much advice that could be given since these are personal by nature.

6.8) Final instructions.

For example, what would you prefer for the disposition of your remains.

You might have requests for how the funeral be held, or perhaps even ask that there be no funeral at all. These may not be good ideas. A funeral is much more for the sake of the survivors rather than the deceased. You may want to eliminate pain by not having a sad funeral, but you may be causing more damage. A funeral can help in the process of grief, in particular for denial.

7) The writing process

Writing a suicide note is like any writing process. However, the importance of the note and the usually large amount of ideas you want to say may make this process a difficult one.

If you are not accustomed to writing, or if you find yourself stuck or overwhelmed, try these simple steps:

  • In the beginning, let thoughts flow freely. Write any ideas which come to mind quickly and informally. Do not pay to attention to technicalities, or to the order of ideas.
  • Once you feel you are done jotting most of your ideas down, shuffle them around to organize them in a sequence which makes sense.
  • Rewrite your informal ideas and expand them so they make sense.

That is all there is to it.

8) Conclusion.

After writing your note, you might feel disappointed. When you read it, it seems like nothing special. Such an emotional event, transformed into trivial words and sentences.

Perhaps you imagined your note to be an inspiration for those left behind. Deep, breathtaking, creative, original... In other words: meaningful.

Your note may not live up to your expectations. But could it? If you do not find meaning in your life it is difficult to expect that you could be able to find meaning in a note of your own creation. The important thing is not whether you find it meaningful, but if your loved ones will.

After you have made some efforts, you have to acknowledge your own limits: you may never be able to write a note which you will find acceptable. At such times you must resort to reason. Reread this article. If you have followed it, there is probably not much more you can do. The most difficult part about the note is deciding when you are done.

Good luck!


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[13] Sheskin A. and Wallace S. E. "Differing bereavements: Suicide, natural and accidental deaths", Omega, 7, pp 229-242, 1976.

[14] Stone H. "Suicide and grief", New York: Abingdon Press, 1972.

[15] Rudestam K. E. and Imbroll D. "Societal reactions to a child's death by suicide", Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51, pp 461-462, 1983.

[16] Solomon M. I. "The bereaved and the stigma of suicide", Omega, 13, 377-387, 1983.

[17] Rudestam K. E. and Agnelli P. "The effect of the content of suicide notes on grief reactions", Journal of Clinical Psychology, March 1987, Vol 43, No. 2.

[18] Augenbaum B. and Neuringer C. "Helping survivors with the impact of a suicide", In A.C.Cain (Ed.), Survivors of suicide, Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 1972.

[19] Atkinson J. M. "Discovering suicide", London: Macmillan, 1978.

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[21] Winch G. and Leftofsky K. "The nature of suicide death as a factor in understanding the reactions of surviving family members", 1981, Unpublished manuscript, Toronto.

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