“Mum, I could write to you for days, but I know nothing would actually make a difference to you,” the note begins. “You are much too ignorant and self concerned to even attempt to listen or understand, everyone knows that.”
More hateful words follow, culminating with, “You are a waste of space, ignorant, and a rotten c***.”
A 17-year-old girl wrote this note shortly before she and her boyfriend reportedly killed a police officer and then took their own lives. Such a letter would be hurtful under any circumstances, but as an adolescent’s last words to her mother, it seems especially cruel.
I know nothing about this mother and daughter’s relationship. Perhaps the mother truly hurt her daughter in devastating ways. Perhaps, instead, the daughter’s hatred toward her mother was typical of so many strained relationships between mothers and their adolescent daughters.
Regardless, a hateful suicide note can provoke feelings of embarrassment and guilt, generate intense anger toward the deceased, and complicate the grieving process for the intended target of the note.
Blame and Revenge in Suicide Notes
The adolescent daughter’s suicide note is one of several anger-laced notes that have made the headlines recently. Another is the note of a father who was in a bitter, years-long custody dispute with his ex-wife.
In the father’s long suicide note, which he posted online, he calls his ex-wife a psychopath, states she bullied and emotionally abused him, and blames her father for his “murder by suicide.” (Remarkably, the ex-wife was awarded the copyright for the suicide note and has successfully required many websites to remove it, but other sites have refused to take it down, like this one. )
The actress Julia Roberts’ half-sister Nancy Motes died by suicide in February. Reportedly, she left a long suicide note blaming Julia Roberts for her death.
Most spiteful suicide notes simply go unreported. They may remain a family secret (or a secret from the family), a source of shame, anger or sadness, whether those emotions are directed at the deceased or at the target of the note.
A Painful Goodbye
I first wrote about suicide notes (“Unwritten Goodbyes: When There is No Suicide Note”) because of the pain those left behind can experience when there is no note – no final expression of love, no goodbye, no explanation for why the person died by suicide. I neglected to say that while the absence of a suicide note can hurt, the presence of a spiteful suicide note can hurt even more.
If you were targeted in a spiteful suicide note, then you might experience a complex barrage of emotions, depending on the nature of your relationship with the person who died. Two reactions are especially common: Anger toward the deceased, and feelings of guilt.
Anger is understandable, even instinctive. If a person’s suicide note blamed you, then you are under attack. The letter writer, serving as judge and jury, convicted you of wrongdoing without giving you any chance to present a defense. The verdict stands.
At least, it can feel that way. In reality, the suicide note captures the writer’s thoughts and feelings during only one moment in time, a moment that often is clouded by distorted thinking, mental illness, addiction, or other forces of suicide.
Recovering from the Attack
You also might feel terribly hurt by the suicide note’s indictment of you, even more so if you were close to the person who died. The pain of your loss, the intense grief, is compounded by the expression of raw anger. Feelings of guilt often follow, especially if you wish desperately that you could relive events and prevent your loved one from dying.
To place the suicide note in perspective, it can help to ask yourself the following questions:
Do the person’s criticisms accurately reflect the whole of you and your relationship with that person? (Doubtful, but if so, please be sure to read further below.)
Are the person’s criticisms of you highly selective, focusing only on regrettable incidents in your relationship while ignoring the many other aspects of your relationship that were benign or actually happy?
Are you buying into the person’s accusations without defending yourself?
Was suicide a rational response to whatever shortcomings or misdeeds that you are accused of?
It is also important to consider whether you, too, blame yourself for the person’s suicide. As I discuss elsewhere (“If Only: Self-Blame After a Loved One’s Suicide”), many people undeservedly blame themselves after the suicide of a loved one. Sadly, an angry suicide note can feed into your own fears that you failed the person who died.
But What If the Suicide Note is True?
Perhaps the note accurately reports ways that you caused the person pain. Whatever hurtful things you said or did may be justifiable to you, or they may break your heart.
It is impossible not to hurt people from time to time, whether by ending a relationship, saying “no” when a person wants to hear “yes,” loving someone else, expressing needs that a loved one cannot meet, saying words in anger, fighting for what is right, or something else that upsets another person. Causing a person’s pain is not the same as causing a person’s suicide.
If you inflicted harm in ways that go beyond the normal hurts of life, be careful to distinguish between guilt for your wrongdoings and guilt for the person’s suicide. Short of handing a loaded gun to a psychotic person who you know hears voices commanding him or her to die by suicide, it is extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to cause another person’s suicide.
Even in the case of a vicious ex-spouse, a sadistic bully, or a mother who may have harmed her adolescent daughter, there is no “murder by suicide,” in my opinion. Legions of others have been hurt in the same way, or worse, without ending their life.
No one person, no one act, and no one event causes suicide. Emotional pain interacts with other forces, such as mental illness, genetic influences, learned behaviors, coping skills, hopelessness, and distorted thoughts.
Keep in Mind…
A suicide note reveals far more about its writer than about anyone else. When a suicide note contains fury, hatred, or blame, it often reflects how disturbed the person who wrote it was at the time.
Beneath the person’s anger lay a long well of despair, reaching deep into darkness and isolation. You did not dig this well. Illness did, or stress, or distorted thinking that produced tunnel vision, a view without any options besides death.
Keeping in mind the person’s disturbed thinking can help soothe your anger toward the person who lashed out at you, as well as your feelings of guilt or self blame. Above all, this awareness can help you heal.
© Copyright 2014 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com
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