An unwanted letter
July 27, 2011 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Should I read my friend's suicide letter?

A good friend of mine killed himself earlier last week. I've known for about a week. Of course it's been devastating especially because no one knew he was depressed. I'm very, very sad about it but I'm soldiering on, going to work and seeing my friends, though I have been thinking about it almost constantly.

A mutual friend has a copy of his letter and offered to send it to me to read and I'm wondering if I should.

I see the pros: it might give me some closure and may alleviate the guilt I've been feeling (ie. I should've called more, I should've paid better attention.) On the other hand, it could open up wounds if I read my friend's words which are possibly very hopeless.

I will probably ask my friend who read the letter already how he feels. But I just wanted to put this out there, if anyone else has been in this situation. I'm leaning more towards reading it. I appreciate any advice or thoughts, especially if you have experience with this kind of sad situation. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The letter's presumably not going anywhere. If you're worried that it might throw you off to read it now, you can pass and come back to it in the future if you find you want to read it.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:13 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Memail me. Don't want to go into it here, but I have some advice.
posted by digitalprimate at 7:15 PM on July 27, 2011

I am so sorry for your loss. So, so sorry.
You must remember, that your friend died of a disease called depression. You may find some answers in this letter, or a connection to your friend, but the reasons for your loss are not there.
I lost a friend to depression almost 20 years ago. I have labored over her letter, I have labored over my memories, and tried to find the answer to how this happened to her. I am still searching for answers, still looking to assuage my guilt. I now doubt I will ever find that.
You should read his letter. Find out what you can, but I doubt that you will find the answers that you want. When you can, meditate with compassion on the kind of pain that leads people to this, and forgive everyone involved (including yourself) for not knowing how to fix his mind and spirit in the face of this terrible disease.
Seriously, I wish the internet had good ways to send hugs.
posted by pickypicky at 7:15 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think you should read it. He intended the suicide letter to be read. This tragedy will likely pull you and your remaining friends closer and you'll want to be on the same page as you heal.
posted by DetriusXii at 7:17 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

What a difficult question.

What does your heart tell you? There should be a yes or a no in there - I'd listen to that.

If the answer is no, then be at peace. It was not your friend who wrote the letter, but the sad part of him that could not go on.

If you do decide to read it, I have in my mind that you should do it with solemnity, as a hail and farewell.

Wait till you have no demands on your time, go to a beautiful place, compose yourself, read it, then inter or burn the letter somewhere meaningful to you.

It could be the chance to say goodbye inside yourself you did not get from your friend.

I hope that's helpful.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:18 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

My cousin killed herself around ten years ago. I didn't read the letter right away, mostly because it was not addressed to me, and it moved slowly through the family. Reading it did not make her death less tragic or painful, but it did give some insight into her state of mind before she put a bullet in her own chest. She was in a dark place.

Ultimately, your friend don't write a suicide note for everyone to ignore. Read it with utmost charity and compassion. Keep that compassion at the forefront of your thoughts when reading, coming to terms with, and moving on from the experience.
posted by fake at 7:20 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've read a friend's suicide letter before. I had similar worries about how I'd react if it said this thing, or this other thing, or if there was something I could have helped with, or maybe an example of a time he was so miserable and I hadn't known it, or so many other things. In the end, that's why I read it. I felt that if I knew what it said I could deal with it emotionally and start to move on. But without reading it, I was going to keep constructing a thousand different scenarios in my head, each one more terrible than the last. In this particular case, the letter didn't reveal very much at all, so be ready for that possibility as well. I'm sorry for your loss. It gets easier. Not for a while, but it does.
posted by troublewithwolves at 7:22 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

ITS NOT YOUR FAULT. Period. I have no idea if reading the letter is a good idea or not... (ok, id read the letter. Not knowing drives me nuts) but there is 99% likely not much if anything you could have done to prevent things. Grieve, yes. Get angry if need be, yes. Beat yourself up, no.

Therapy, as always. Good luck, and very sorry for your loss.
posted by Jacen at 7:23 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The letter was a part of his choice and actions. If you want to come to grips with the full reality you need to read it and deal with the whole circumstance.

A good friend wrote to his good friends about his life and, presumably, his impending death. To ignore it because it might make you feel worse is not being a good friend.

Be grateful you have some communication of explanation. I wish I had.
posted by uncaken at 7:25 PM on July 27, 2011

It's definitely not your fault. It's an illness, and wholly not your fault. I am so sorry.

Whether to read the letter or not is a personal choice, not for him or anyone else, but just for you.

If this were me, I would 100% talk this over with my therapist before doing anything. You should talk this over with someone like this (therapist, clergy, etc).
posted by sweetkid at 7:28 PM on July 27, 2011

You don't have to read it now. You can revisit the question as infrequently as you wish. Once a month, once a year, whenever it comes to mind.

For difficult decisions, try the coin flip method. Heads, you read. Tails, you wait. While the coin is in the air, you may find yourself muttering 'please not heads.' if that happens, don't read it yet.

Nthing the advice to consult an impartial third party. The friend who already read it is not impartial. You also have the option of letting you'd therapist (if you have one) pre-read the letter.
posted by bilabial at 7:32 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Seconding the above advice to not rush to a decision.

I think -I- would read it, personally, because for me, not knowing is worse than knowing the worst. But that's just me. I know people who feel exactly the opposite way, and you may be one of those people.

It probably will hurt a lot to read. It probably won't help with your guilt. You'll probably start grieving all over again for him. But it may help you understand what he was going through and give you a path toward forgiving yourself.

It may help you to remember that he was depressed, that the nature of the disease is that was he reports feeling did not reflect reality. He was obviously very good at hiding his illness from others, which is why it was such a shock. Even if you could have stopped it--and this is Hollywood fantasy, but who doesn't feel the same way when someone loses their life like this?--you couldn't have known what to do because he didn't or couldn't communicate to you that he was in trouble. So it's important to try to forgive yourself for not being able to do the impossible.

So I say get a copy of the letter, but don't push yourself to read it right away. Maybe wait for a quiet Friday night, with some mutual friends and some wine, and read it together and be there together. Think of it as his last gift, his bringing you together to support each other through what he assumed would be the inevitable conclusion of his disease.

Or put the letter away, and read it in a year, when your acute grief has passed and you are able to look back at this time without falling apart. It'll still be very sad, but you'll be in a different place and will be able cope with it better.

Please take care of yourself. Let yourself grieve for now, in whatever way works for you. I'm so sorry for your loss. It is so heartbreaking.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:32 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes. I never got to read my father's suicide letter, and my mother destroyed it before she died. I will regret this for the rest of my life.
posted by elizardbits at 7:40 PM on July 27, 2011

How about for now you ask for a copy in a sealed envelope? Put it aside until you feel ready, remembering that it is OK if you never open it.
posted by LarryC at 8:24 PM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

You may find this article informative. How Not to Commit Suicide. Sometimes people don't know how else to resolve their pain, and they aren't able to see the pain they cause. I'm terribly sorry for your loss.
posted by theora55 at 9:24 PM on July 27, 2011

anyone who doesn't know, theora55's link contains actual suicide notes. It can be upsetting.
posted by sweetkid at 10:13 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I see the pros: it might give me some closure and may alleviate the guilt I've been feeling

It wasn't your fault. He was sick, and you couldn't help him. You loved him, and I'm sure that he knew that. But there was nothing that you could do.

I think that you may want to read it. It may be that, if you don't, you will always wonder what it said, if there was any clue in it as to why he did what he did. In your position, I would want to read it.

But, as others have said - the letter isn't going anywhere. You can get a copy, and make the decision to read it at a letter date. If you decide that you don't need to know - that the memory of you friend in better times is sufficient for you - then burn it.

But if you do read it, remember this: It wasn't your fault. Nothing in the letter can or will change that.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:34 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend, anonymous. I can tell you what I do in order to read emails I'm scared to read (like from people who might be really mad at me, etc.), maybe it might be helpful. I cover up most of the email with my hand, and just read the last line. Or sometimes, if I'm really apprehensive, just the signature. The last line and the signature can actually give you a pretty good sense of how the rest of it was, both tone and content-- and sometimes surprise you. "Regretfully, X." Or, "Anyway, I had a wonderful time. -X." And usually, people are looking to wind things down and wrap things up with that last line, so even if, for example, they're communicating their anger, it'll be wound down a bit and say something like "I certainly hope things go better next time" -- lines like "I am deeply disgusted and moreover, sorely disappointed" will go in the opening.

So, maybe my last line/signature test will help you make your decision about reading the whole letter.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:19 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wait until you are ready to read the letter. You may never be ready to read it. You may read it tomorrow. You may rip it open the moment you get it and then freak out and refuse to read it. This is all perfectly okay. There is no one way to go through with this.

My father didn't leave us a note. Sometimes I wonder if I would have read it if he had... sometimes I'm glad he didn't so I didn't have to make that choice.

Remember that you don't need to read it for closure. It might not bring you closure. You absolutely do not have to read it if you don't want to. And no matter what, as others said, it is not your fault.
posted by buteo at 11:19 PM on July 27, 2011

I watched the video left by a family member after a suicide. I can't tell you what to do in your situation, but i can tell you what i got out of hearing his final words. Hearing him speak in a voice i didn't recognize about ideas and reasoning that didn't make logical sense drove home the point that the person that came to the conclusion suicide was the best choice for them was not the person i loved my whole life. It seems a strange thing to take comfort in, but I would have never had that insight had i not watched the video. IT was a small window into a person's mind at a very dark and confusing moment.

I will say to be prepared for something unexpected if you decide to read it. My family member blamed several people and said so explicitly. These were people he had actually wronged - not the other way around. Frankly it made me angry at the time even though it drove home the point that he was really really disconnected from the reality of his life. Everything he said illustrated how he couldn't think past the very moment he was making this decision to see what he would do to the family he loved.

Take your time making your decision. I hope you understand logically it was not your fault. It may take awhile for you to emotionally understand the same thing. Don't beat yourself up over what you could have or should have done because there aren't any answers to that question. Hindsight is a funny thing. it makes it seems clear now that he had some depression or other issues but the reality is that were he still living, he would still be hiding the struggle within himself from you and others who loved him. Suicide is a hard thing to wrap your mind around for those left behind. Take care of yourself.
posted by domino at 6:58 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would read it. That's just me.

But I think the important thing is, you shouldn't feel obligated to read it. If you really don't want to, that isn't a betrayal of your friend, and it doesn't make you a bad person. You get to decide for yourself what you will do to remember your friend in a good way.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:59 AM on July 28, 2011

What I always find fascinating is that the average person expects to find "answers" in a suicide note. When my step-brother committed suicide, I did read and save the letter(s) because everyone else wanted to burn all his "crazy" writing and papers. His letter contained no "answers" and simply served the purpose for me to confirm all that I knew anyway ... he was a troubled individual who deliberately isolated himself from family (he didn't have any friends that I was aware of...) and that isolation ultimately left him unable to cope or see any other resolution than killing himself.

If anything, read the letter so that you know examples of states of mind of people who are suicidal. You may need this information in the future should you have other friends, family, or acquaintances who are suicidal. In my own situation, doing so has helped me parse out the "I just want to die!" exasperational statements from the people who truly are out to harm themselves.

It has also helped me speak frankly with people who have emotional and psychological problems who contemplate suicide.
posted by kuppajava at 8:07 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've discussed my best friend's suicide here a few times. He didn't leave a letter, per se, but did leave a short note. Hearing what that note said actually made me feel better about the whole thing, it was so like him to write what he did, and it somehow helped me change my viewpoint slightly away from the "why didn't I call him when I suspected he was having a bad time, I am a terrible friend and this was my fault" end of grief and more towards the "he was suffering and just wasn't going to get help for it" end. I still think of him every day, I still cry and miss him terribly, I will probably grieve for him for the rest of my life, and I still wish I'd called him, but knowing what his note said does help, somehow.

I am so sorry, feel free to memail me if you like, I doubt I have any real words of wisdom for you, but I do understand something about what you are going through.
posted by biscotti at 8:20 AM on July 28, 2011

I've been through something similar, but there was no note. (However, in hindsight it was pretty clear what was going on.) I felt a ton of guilt; I should have intervened sooner, etc. I wish I'd had a letter, or anything tangible that provided a connection to him.

I would read the letter when you are ready. Perhaps have someone you trust nearby - for example read it in your bedroom while the other person is in the living room, ready to give you hugs or make you an ice cream float or whatever would comfort you. Just don't be alone while you go through this.

And I would write a letter back to your friend. My therapist suggested this, and that's what really helped me get some closure. Be angry, be sad, be apologetic, whatever you feel is OK, whatever you want to express is OK.

Expect to think about this a lot. It's been 4+ years and the grief will come up at random times (song on the radio, meeting someone else with his not-very-common first name). Forgive yourself. Don't feel weak for dwelling on it, don't force yourself to put on a brave face. Consider therapy from someone who specializes in grief; I only went for a couple of sessions, but it helped greatly.

Also feel free to memail me.
posted by desjardins at 8:48 AM on July 28, 2011

i am truly sorry for your loss. i can only imagine how difficult life is right now.

i would recommend reading the letter. there are some letters that people send and receive that are emotionally difficult to read, but reading the letter will help you realize that you were not to blame for this. it will give you closure because it will give you a better understanding of how your friend felt and why this happened. it seems like this has been on your mind constantly despite trying to get out of the house and spend time with other friends, so reading
the letter might give you a 'final' answer and help you see things from a new perspective, from his perspective. another thing, the letter was meant to be read (as someone else said) and you seem like you were a great friend to him so you should read the letter and read the words
that he wasn't able to say verbally to you and your other group of friends.

i know that sometimes i write or read letters that strike a chord with me and sometimes i'll have to stop reading the letter because i'm too nervous or scared to read the rest. so, if you feel that way then you can always stop reading after a few sentences if you know that it's just too difficult for you. asking your friend might be a good idea, but feelings are subjective and the way that your friend feels might differ from the way that you feel.
posted by sincerely-s at 8:56 AM on July 28, 2011

If you choose to read it discard your expectations of what the letter could contain and the hopes of how the contents will affect you.

There is no such thing as closure. Your friendship, your friend's actions and words, and manner of death will be a part of your experience forever, and your perspective and reactions will change over time.
posted by nita at 10:47 AM on July 28, 2011

pickypicky: "You must remember, that your friend died of a disease called depression."

This a million times. Whatever you did or didn't do, whatever your friend wrote in the letter or didn't write -- you must realize it is not your fault. A horrible thing named depression killed your friend.

I would read the letter.
posted by deborah at 11:38 AM on July 28, 2011

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