Last Writes

Some suicide notes are short, some tell a more detailed story. They all have unhappy endings.

Cases like Robert S.'s are extremely rare; most suicides are unwitnessed. For that matter, despite the ubiquity of the "suicide note" cliche, fewer than 30 percent of those who take their own lives write down their last words. When they do, however, the last letter is frequently the only indication of a person's thoughts during his final moments.

"The note reflects the psychological and emotional state of someone who is about to pull the trigger," says Ronald Maris, director of the Center for the Study of Suicide, located at the University of South Carolina. "If you can imagine that kind of chilling scenario -- you tend to get very focused in your thoughts and actions. The notes will often reflect a lot of ambivalence about life. Love and hate will get all mixed together."

Such statements, often rambling and angry, can take many forms. In February, upon learning that his wife wanted a divorce, a man killed himself after writing a note on a humorous Valentine's Day card. At the bottom he taped his picture, beneath the card's punch line: "Will moo be my Valentine?"

The lie was closing in on Steven A.
Since being laid off from his job at Jordan Marsh back in 1991, he had tried to keep his family financially secure. But with any juggling act, sooner or later something is bound to fall. In Steven's case, it was his health insurance. A short time before this morning in March, he had been bothered by stomach pains and had resolved to set up an appointment to see a doctor. When he discovered that his health-insurance policy had been terminated after he missed a payment, he couldn't bear to tell his wife. It was only the latest in a string of humiliations.

So as she showered and prepared to drive him to his imaginary doctor's appointment, Steven went to the laundry room in the basement of their North Dade home, laid out a blanket, placed his glasses neatly by his side, and shot himself once in the head.

"I'm sorry but I simply couldn't take it any longer -- pain and being broke," he wrote in a note left on the washing machine. "There are no medical tests today, never were. They canceled my insurance when I goofed up a check. I've been in a web, drowning, suffocating for ages and unfortunately not a relief for anyone but me after this morning. I'm so sorry.

"I know I'm a junk collector," he continued, "but please don't pitch everything out both here and at warehouse without first looking at it. Some valuable memorabilia there -- might get you some money. I love you all so and yet can't face you. So ashamed. All my trying to salvage a life financially for naught. Ruined. You do have some insurance. Get a lawyer and try to fight the bills. There are lots of coins thruout house, especially in closet downstairs, buried under boxes. Some in nitetable and downstairs are silver, not just to be rolled -- please -- it's some more money for you. I don't expect forgiveness for what I've done -- just know I love you all.

"I always joked saying I was worth more dead than alive."
Steven A. falls into a category that could be labeled "considerate victims," those who, in their deaths, attempt to inconvenience their loved ones as little as possible. Other considerate Dade suicides include Robert B., a 68-year-old man who hanged himself but left on his kitchen counter a $2000 check made out to a local funeral home, and George K., also 68, who before shooting himself in the head covered his bed with a plastic sheet. And when Brian G., 27, learned that his wife wanted to file for divorce, he asked her to leave him alone in the house for an hour or so. "Goodbye honey," he wrote in a three-page letter. "I wish you knew how much I loved you. Please don't ever let the babies think I didn't love them. I just hurt too much. I love you. Goodbye until I see you in heaven." As a postscript he added, "Please don't hate me, I didn't want the kids here, but I put them to sleep first." To ensure that he wouldn't be heard if he screamed, he hanged himself with a sock stuffed in his mouth.

Financial desperation like Steven A.'s is a recurring theme. But few victims bring the same spirit to the final act as Michael and Valerie C. did in March 1992. On their last night, Michael, 44, and Valerie, 34, popped open a bottle of champagne, downed a slew of pills, climbed into bed, and drifted off together toward what they hoped would be a new start.

"I am writing this to let you know that what we are doing is not insane or irrational," Michael wrote in one of several letters the Kendall couple addressed to friends and family. "I have had a mostly wonderful life, the last nine years of which I spent with a woman whose love has been a blessing. We have decided mutually not to go back and start at square one and suffer the hard times at our ages. We would rather go forward together wherever that leads us. Don't mourn or pity us, but rather, wish us luck on our journey."

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