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Barefoot To The End
April 10, 2009 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Wednesday, a woman jumped from the top tier of the Queens Center Mall, leaving by the railing a distraught companion, her purse, and her shoes. At first glance it would seem a spontaneous, strange thing to do, but it was most likely a premeditated action to show her intent. Workers on the Golden Gate Bridge use shoes as a clue of somebody about to jump, and Japan has long known that people who end their life leave their shoes behind. Age has little to do with it, and method seems irrelevant, so the common bond seems to be that taking off your shoes is the second-to-the-last decision some people make in their lives.
posted by AzraelBrown (125 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh! How delightful and whimsical. Still. Maybe the shoes should have been her third-to-last decision, and after that maybe, you know, checking to see if there weren't any innocent bystanders who aren't actually planning to pull off something so inane who's skulls you could easily crack open on your way down. That should have probably been a decision.
posted by setanor at 6:39 AM on April 10, 2009


From the first link: A distraught woman jumped 60 feet to her death at the crowded Queens Center Mall Wednesday, landing on a teenager relaxing in a massage chair.

Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:47 AM on April 10, 2009


My wife would never leave her shoes behind.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:51 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


It was a considerate gesture to remove the shoes. Wouldn't want to track mud around the place.
posted by dr_dank at 6:51 AM on April 10, 2009


I never thought about this, maybe because I've never had the inclination to kill myself, but if I ever did, I would totally want to do it barefoot.
posted by snofoam at 6:51 AM on April 10, 2009


Did it say whether the teenager in the massage chair was wearing shoes? Maybe it was a double ended suicide.
posted by mannequito at 6:55 AM on April 10, 2009


Did it say whether the teenager in the massage chair was wearing shoes?

If this was in Japan, 35 cell phone pictures would have captured that her shoes actually ended up on his feet, meaning he was going to be next to die, leading to 8 movies in 3 years and 16 suicide clubs.
posted by setanor at 6:57 AM on April 10, 2009 [26 favorites]


She's so not gellin'.
posted by stavrogin at 6:57 AM on April 10, 2009 [17 favorites]


""The man shouted 'God will save me, if he exists', lowered himself by a rope into the enclosure, took his shoes off and went up to the lions," a zoo official told Reuters news agency."

Welp, that solves that.
posted by ScotchRox at 7:01 AM on April 10, 2009 [15 favorites]


Emergency service workers cordoned off the lower two levels of the mall after the apparent suicide and shut down escalators leading to the lower level.

...prompting scores of copycat suicides at closing time.
posted by DU at 7:07 AM on April 10, 2009


oh those poor kids. Suicide is a selfish thing to do to begin with, and to do this in such a careless, dramatic "ZOMG EVERYBODY LOOK, O SO MUCH PAIN I AM IN" method... argh. I hope the kid she landed on is really ok - I'd imagine that could be very traumatic.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:08 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


landing on a teenager relaxing in a massage chair.

That's not funny at all, yet my brain insists on parsing it as funny. There's got to be a word for that, or a description of the phenomenon at the psychological level. Hopefully Malcolm Gladwell is working on a chapter about it in his next book.

Maybe it happens because we picture descriptions like that as cartoons, with no real tragedy (or maybe that's just me). I'm sure if I was there or saw pictures I'd be properly horrified.
posted by diogenes at 7:14 AM on April 10, 2009 [13 favorites]


Not shoe or suicide-related, but this story reminds me of a newspaper clipping I saw years ago (my boss at the time collected bizarre newspaper stories):

A poodle fell from a high-rise apartment balcony in Buenos Aires, killing the pedestrian it landed on. Another pedestrian who witnessed the event had a heart attack and died on the spot, and a third pedestrian ran panicking into the street and was run over by a bus.
posted by trip and a half at 7:15 AM on April 10, 2009 [46 favorites]


Those people in Buenos Aires didn't happen to recently leave a plane on the runway because one of the passengers had a terrible dream about the plane exploding on takeoff, did they?
posted by adipocere at 7:21 AM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


@trip and a half -heh! - that's too good to come out of a journalist.
posted by krilli at 7:23 AM on April 10, 2009


A poodle fell from a high-rise apartment balcony in Buenos Aires

No shoes on the poodle I'm guessing?

And from what I could find, this does not apply to horses at all.
posted by Avelwood at 7:31 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


A poodle fell from a high-rise apartment balcony in Buenos Aires, killing the pedestrian it landed on.

But first, Grant and Tori find out if bacon really is that delicious.
posted by DU at 7:32 AM on April 10, 2009 [10 favorites]


A poodle fell from a high-rise apartment balcony

This is exactly what diogenes was talking about, yes? It's not funny, but it sounds funny and everyone here is far enough removed from it, so it ends up in the "Oddly Enough" section right next to the little girl who can drink milk with her ears.
posted by setanor at 7:37 AM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I always took it as the laughing in the face of despair phenomenon. It is funny, and horrific.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:41 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I always said those f-ing massage chairs were dangerous.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:43 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think it fits into the Oddly Enough category either, to be honest. A girl drinking milk through her ears or whatever is funny and not tragic at all. There is no victim.

More in the practical joke realm, I think. Some can be very cruel, and they are always at someone's expense. Most jokes are, actually.

..... find me something that really makes you laugh, sweetheart . . . a joke, or anything else-but something that gave you a real belly laugh, not a smile. Then we'll see if there isn't a wrongness in it somewhere and whether you would laugh if the wrongness wasn't there." He thought. "I grok when apes learn to laugh, they'll be people."

"Maybe." Doubtfully but earnestly Jill started digging into her memory for jokes that had struck her as irresistibly funny, ones which had jerked a laugh out of her . . . incidents she had seen or heard of which had made her helpless with laughter:

"-her entire bridge club."..."Should I bow?"..."Neither one, you idiot -- instead!"..."-the Chinaman objects."..."-broke her leg."..."-make trouble for me!"..."-but it'll spoil the ride for me."..."-and his mother-in-law fainted."..."Stop you? Why, I bet three to one you could do it!"..."-something has happened to Ole."..."-and so are you, you clumsy ox!"

She gave up on "funny" stories, pointing out to Mike that such were just fantasies, not real,.and tried to recall real incidents. Practical jokes? All practical jokes supported Mike's thesis, even ones as mild as a dribble glass-and when it came to an interne's notion of a.practical joke-Well, internes and medical students should be kept in cages. What else? The time Elsa Mae had lost her monogrammed panties? It hadn't been funny to Elsa Mae. Or the- She said grimly, "Apparently the pratfall is the peak of all humor. It's not a pretty picture of the human race, Mike."

"Oh, but it is!"

"Huh?"

"I had thought-I had been told-that a 'funny' thing is a thing of a goodness. It isn't. Not ever is it funny to the person it happens to. Like that sheriff without his pants. The goodness is in the laughing itself. I grok it is a bravery . . . and a sharing . . . against pain and sorrow and defeat."

"But- Mike, it is not a goodness to laugh at people."

"No. But I was not laughing at the little monkey. I was laughing at us People. And I suddenly knew that I was people and could not stop laughing." He paused. "This is hard to explain, because you have never lived as a Martian, for all that I've told you about it. On Mars there is never anything to laugh at. All the things that are funny to us humans either physically cannot happen on Mars or are not permitted to happen- sweetheart, what you call 'freedom' doesn't exist on Mars; everything is planned by the Old Ones-or the things that do happen on Mars which we laugh at here on Earth aren't funny because there is no wrongness about them. Death, for example."

"Death isn't funny."

"Then why are there so many jokes about death?

(c) 1961 by Robert A. Heinlein

posted by lazaruslong at 7:44 AM on April 10, 2009 [10 favorites]


A girl drinking milk through her ears or whatever is funny and not tragic at all. There is no victim.

Well, there's the girl. She'll be killed and dissected to figure out what freak of biology allowed this. Oh and her homeworld will probably be bombed before cooler heads prevail and the Interplanetary Milk Treaty is signed.
posted by DU at 7:48 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wednesday, a woman jumped from the top tier of the Queens Center Mall,

And didn't have the human decency to make sure the path was clear. What an inconsiderate moron.
posted by jayder at 7:50 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having someone leap onto you from a very great height while you are in a massage chair is a pretty established practice in Rolfing, and I'm genuinely surprised that people on MetaFilter don't already know that.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:51 AM on April 10, 2009 [14 favorites]


I always took it as the laughing in the face of despair phenomenon. It is funny, and horrific.

I think it's more a case of "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." There are people who use laughter and humor as a coping strategy when bad things happen (myself included) but the majority of people do not. I agree with diogenes that it's mostly a case of the actual tragic reality of the situation being divorced from the absurd or ironic nature of it.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:52 AM on April 10, 2009


In my college it was an unwritten rule that "sleeping" people were off limits to pranks while "drunk" or "passed out" people were not. The determining factor was shoes. If you took your shoes off before becoming unconcious you were sleeping. If you failed to do so, woe to you.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:53 AM on April 10, 2009 [11 favorites]


Oh and her homeworld will probably be bombed before cooler heads prevail

Probably? Probably???

I will reduce her homeworld to a blasted hellscape of blowing cinders and boiling seas even if it means I have to pilot the XK devices myself.
posted by aramaic at 7:57 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Maybe it happens because we picture descriptions like that as cartoons, with no real tragedy (or maybe that's just me)."

No, it's just slapstick.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:58 AM on April 10, 2009


I don't know - taking off shoes makes perfect sense to me. If I were going to do it, I'd rather have the grip strength from my toes to let me push off away from the wall gracefully. I'm a klutz in normal life and can imagine that as my last act I wouldn't want to slip on a leather sole, lose one shoe, get tangled in my purse strap and just end up hanging there upside down, embarassed, but still alive.

I'm not remotely suicidal. But I hate shoes. Give me barefoot anyday.
posted by librarianamy at 7:58 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm conflicted as to how I feel about this--taking off one's shoes before jumping to one's death, I mean.

On the one hand, I find it somewhat poetic and poignant. Like in Tom Wait's The Ocean Doesn't Want Me Today.
I'll go in up to here
It can't possibly hurt
All they will find is my beer
And my shirt
Taking off your shirt before drowning yourself in the ocean, so as not to get it wet. Taking off your suit jacket and shoes before jumping off a bridge. I think it says a lot about people and customs and societal expectations and all that; you take off your coat/shoes/whatever when you don't want to get them dirty, or wrinkle them, but it doesn't matter because you're about to end your life, which has a whole other stigma in society, and just... dang.

On the other, I think it's an empty and ridiculous gesture in the face of an act that makes me equally as conflicted.

I have the same problems with dual opinions when going to art galleries, actually; it's beautiful! It's profound! It's just a tangled mess of chicken wire and nylon ribbon attached to a concrete block, why the hell does the price tag say $4,000?!

So maybe it's just me.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 8:08 AM on April 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Because gallery owners gotta eat.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:22 AM on April 10, 2009


Are they planning to land feet first? Are they sure removing shoes is the right course of action to safeguard this? Does anyone ever take a hat off instead? Or is removal of shoes indicative of an intent to land head first?
posted by davemee at 8:32 AM on April 10, 2009



don't wanna die with my shoes on
no that just wouldn't be right
ascending to heaven with Doc Martin's on?
that'd be an awkward flight

don't wanna die with my shoes on
no that just wouldn't be right
as you decompose, your feet swell up
and those shoes would get pretty tight

don't wanna die with my shoes on
no that just wouldn't be right
but they say you can leave your hat on
and well, I think I just might
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:32 AM on April 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


Now I feel like an underachiever.

I take off my shoes to end my day.
posted by srboisvert at 8:34 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


@Diogenes - Perhaps you experienced something similar to Schadenfeude? Not sure if humour gained from the 'massage chair' part of the main story would be counted as schadenfreude, I'd certainly class the giggle that trip and a half's story gave me as a schadenfreudal reaction.
posted by Inner Universe at 8:35 AM on April 10, 2009


I think it's an empty and ridiculous gesture in the face of an act that makes me equally as conflicted.

It seems like you're treating suicide like performance art or something. Suicide isn't any more poetic than a rabbit chewing off it's own leg to get out of a trap. It's a fight or flight response.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:35 AM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you took your shoes off before becoming unconcious you were sleeping.

If I were going to do it, I'd rather have the grip strength from my toes to let me push off away from the wall gracefully.

I think it may be more the former than the latter. Perhaps people thinking of suicide consider it "going to bed" permanently. It seems natural under those circumstances to take your shoes and coat off.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:52 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm conflicted as to how I feel about this--taking off one's shoes before jumping to one's death, I mean.

Me too. Just the other day I was having a conversation with a coworker, and we agreed that since death is inevitable, we hoped that when our time came, it would be in such a way that people would constantly hold it up as an example of evidence in some conspiracy theory:

"Yeah, well if there are no aliens, how come when quin died, he was found frozen solid, in the middle of the desert, covered in unrecognizable writing, and highly irradiated?"

But now I'm thinking that if I ever really snap and decide that my best way out is off of a tall building, I think I'm going to buck the trend. I'm going to wear shoes. Nothing else, mind you, just shoes. And a snowboard.

Because I want the news report to say, "Well, we are still uncertain if this was a suicide, or an extreme sport attempt gone terribly wrong, but the victim was found naked at the base of the building wearing only a pair of combat boots. His snowboard was found some feet away embedded in the hood of a taxi."
posted by quin at 8:56 AM on April 10, 2009 [39 favorites]


Related in a way I can't quite put into words is this sad story from Detroit.
posted by that's MISTER drunk to you at 9:02 AM on April 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's like Pollomacho implied but did not come right out and say, for some reason-- people take their shoes off as part of the act of suicide because they unconsciously identify killing themselves with going to sleep, and think, at some level, that they will wake up again.

What Mental Wimp just said, in other words.
posted by jamjam at 9:05 AM on April 10, 2009


I can't really decide if that's the best anecdote ever, or not. I mean, not many people get landed on by a suicide at the mall; it's a fairly unique experience.

Either way, it's funny.
posted by graventy at 9:09 AM on April 10, 2009


A poodle fell from a high-rise apartment balcony in Buenos Aires, killing the pedestrian it landed on.

I knew the poodle man... Life imitates art. (start at 5:10. oh, and it's Denis Leary, so probably NSFW)
posted by namewithoutwords at 9:13 AM on April 10, 2009


Killing yourself with your shoes on is like having sex with your socks on.
posted by qvantamon at 9:19 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


> That's not funny at all, yet my brain insists on parsing it as funny. There's got to be a word for that, or a description of the phenomenon at the psychological level. Hopefully Malcolm Gladwell is working on a chapter about it in his next book.

I know that when it comes to music, a term that gets used is "incongruous juxtaposition", an example would be in The Least Wanted Song where you have an opera singer rapping about cowboys. Because opera is commonly thought of as "fine art" and something very formal, and rap something that's "low art" and informal, the combination makes it funny. So the contrast between what is proper or expected, and what actually is/happens is what triggers it.

I think you have the same thing here. A massage is supposed to be nice, gentle and relaxing, and having someone commit suicide and landing on you is anything but nice, gentle and relaxing.
posted by bjrn at 9:20 AM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


landing on a teenager relaxing in a massage chair.

Never would have happened at Sharper Image. Just sayin'.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:25 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Killing yourself with your shoes on is like having sex with your socks on.

So killing yourself with your socks on is okay?
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:30 AM on April 10, 2009


Did it say whether the teenager in the massage chair was wearing shoes? Maybe it was a double ended suicide.

A murder-shoeicide pact?
posted by kirkaracha at 9:33 AM on April 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


I take off my shoes to end my day.

No big diff. Others do it to end their days.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:38 AM on April 10, 2009


Death seems to favor the shoeless. I've seen a lot of accident scenes where cars knock people right out of their shoes. The shoes are always a strange and poignant sight.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:40 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


...shoes...socks...

qvontamon is on to something, and I cannot explain it at all.
posted by bendybendy at 9:42 AM on April 10, 2009


Death seems to favor the shoeless. I've seen a lot of accident scenes where cars knock people right out of their shoes. The shoes are always a strange and poignant sight.

Probably just means people aren't wearing properly sized shoes.
posted by graventy at 9:46 AM on April 10, 2009


I first heard about this some years ago when a couple of friends told me about an acquaintance of theirs. She drove to the top of a highway exit ramp connecting with a second highway and stopped the car. A number of roads met in this area and the exit ramp was fairly high up, maybe 70 feet, maybe higher. Anyway, she took off her shoes and a few moments later jumped to her death.

What's up with that? I don't know, it reminded me of a hypnosis tape I had heard where the hypnotist, possibly trying to induce a slight regression, said something to the effect of, "And when you were a small child you played with your toes...". It's an evocative image, the child's curiosity with its own body portraying the self's content engagement with itself; it isn't sexual, which is a peak experience (also implying a valley), it's steady. The skin between the toes is very sensitive. Perhaps the person about to jump is craving some sort sensation different from the heavy emotions they've been contending with. Maybe it's a sort of 'stepping out' from constraint. Trying to articulate motives in these terms is somewhat futile. I'll certainly admit that when I visualize a suicide, especially a jump, it just seems appropriate.
posted by BigSky at 9:57 AM on April 10, 2009


A real man dies with his boots on
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:57 AM on April 10, 2009


Maybe she upset about that kid being on the escalator AGAIN.
posted by grubi at 9:59 AM on April 10, 2009


Whitmer, who wore a kelly green T-shirt with a picture of Mattie on the front on Saturday, celebrated her son's 21st birthday in May by doing something he might have done -- "I got drunk and got a tattoo,"

That mom is awesome. Carry on.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:01 AM on April 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


Suicide is a selfish thing to do to begin with,

Um, no it isn't. Sure, from an outsider's perspective, that's easy to say, but to someone who is actively suicidal, their thought processes aren't normal. They don't reason in the same way as else.

There's despair and often the thought that "everyone would be better off without me", which to them is the least selfish thing in the world - to seemingly remove the "burden" that the person perceives him or herself to be from everyone else. Warped thinking at its nefarious best (worst?).

People condemn suicides unfairly without actually trying to understand just what some of these people are actually thinking. Now, don't get me wrong, it's one of the worst things survivors can suffer, but blaming the suicidal person or calling that person selfish is really callous and a shallow oversimplification.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:04 AM on April 10, 2009 [45 favorites]


*as everyone else.

Also, I almost went to that mall on Wednesday.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:05 AM on April 10, 2009


Having been suicidal (even dragged off a roof one Christmas Eve, shortly before I was going to attempt something like what this woman did), I can say YES SUICIDE IS SELFISH. At the very least, it's supremely self-centered. "*I* am so important in these people's lives that if *I* died, then they will be better off."

Please don't tell me what I know firsthand about suicide and depression.
posted by grubi at 10:16 AM on April 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


This thread reminds me of Bender, when he said, "Let's face it, comedy is a dead art form. But tragedy - heh heh heh - now that's funny!"
posted by Flunkie at 10:17 AM on April 10, 2009




Are they planning to land feet first? Are they sure removing shoes is the right course of action to safeguard this?

I wondered the same thing (I mean, WHY remove one's shoes??) But if you RTFA(s) the answer is suggested that removing one's shoes signals to your corpse's finder that you were not a homicide/accident victim. It’s actually a quite thoughtful gesture, imo.
posted by applemeat at 10:29 AM on April 10, 2009


Whilst I do think that explaining a joke sucks the humor out of it, I have to say that this is darkly humorous because of the juxtaposition of a shocking event with an everyday situation; in a place which many people associate with stress. Coupling this with the fall on a teenager in a massage chair (who is going to be ok -again this also part of it) and you get bleak comedy. Of course suicide isn't funny, but the incongruous context adds a grim comedic sheen to the event.
posted by ob at 10:32 AM on April 10, 2009


People condemn suicides unfairly without actually trying to understand just what some of these people are actually thinking.

Thanks for writing that, cmgonzalez. That's a tremendously insightful thing to write.
posted by Kikkoman at 10:34 AM on April 10, 2009


Killing yourself with your shoes on is like having sex with your socks on.

Strange, I'd thought it rather less pleasant...
posted by Skeptic at 10:48 AM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well, a poodle falling on somebody is slapstick, isn't it? I don't think there is much that difference between being scared and being amused.

Regarding the whole taking-your-shoes-off-before committing suicide, I don't think it's a matter of concern for the shoes, but the act of suicide is a transition ritual; you're moving from one state of being to another. Whether or not you think you know what will happen after you die, death or the after-life is generally considered "taboo" or sacrosanct. Removal of shoes (or hats) is both a symbol of humility and a way of cleaning yourself.
posted by cx at 10:56 AM on April 10, 2009


i'd probably rather kill myself with my shoes than have sex with my socks, though.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:57 AM on April 10, 2009


Shoelesside
posted by hal9k at 10:58 AM on April 10, 2009


Suicide is objectively selfish because it ends the pain for the suicide, but imposes terrible pain on the people who know and love the victim. But it is not objectively malicious if the person attempts suicide out of despair and the warped belief that they're doing everyone a favour.

I guess everyone draws the line at a different place. If someone in the throes of a psychotic break commits suicide, most people would feel compassionate. If someone commits suicide out of a burning desire to end their own pain and inflict pain on others, it's a lot harder to forgive. But many people kill themselves because they are so severely depressed that they have worn a groove into their brain asserting that they are too much of a burden to live and their death will be a relief to others. That's a much more difficult scenario to sort out.
posted by maudlin at 11:02 AM on April 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


...it's a lot harder to forgive...

I agree that suicide is objectively selfish, but very things aren't. Having a hard time forgiving someone that they killed themselves and thereby hurt your feelings, in particular.
posted by cx at 11:06 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


a poodle falling on somebody is slapstick

Sure, but what about what came after?
posted by setanor at 11:15 AM on April 10, 2009


The Detroit story linked above by that's MISTER drunk to you is heartbreaking.
posted by dejah420 at 11:23 AM on April 10, 2009


I agree that suicide is objectively selfish, but very [few] things aren't.

Yes, I think the point is less that suicide is in no way selfish and more that for whatever reason some people see selfishness as the defining aspect of suicide. When a father of three children dies in a skydiving accident, for example, his choice to do something dangerous because he thought it was fun was selfish and ended up hurting his family. But when a news story about such an accident is reported, is the first reaction to accuse him of being selfish?

Obviously these are two different situations, but I think it's unfair that the suicide is selfish argument comes up over and over again any time the topic is discussed. Suicide is a very complicated subject, and to me the people who jump in and accuse suicide victims of being selfish tend to be focusing on a very minor aspect of it that ignores the more fundamental problems involved.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:33 AM on April 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


to me the people who jump in and accuse suicide victims of being selfish tend to be focusing on a very minor aspect of it that ignores the more fundamental problems involved.

Excuse me? You seem to have ignored what I said. I've been there. I've spent more than my fair share of time in the hospitals. I've had to surrender my shoelaces for fear I might off myself right then and there. I've been cuffed and dragged by cops citing Florida's Baker Act, which allows them to put those they feel are mentally ill into such places. I've made plans and a couple of times came very close. I've been diagnosed with depression. I take Wellbutrin daily, and I used to take Zoloft. I know self-loathing like I know my SSN.

And it's selfish. Suicide is one of the most selfish things I could have done. Depression and being suicidal are almost always a reflection of a complete loss of perspective. Luckily (actually, it wasn't luck; it was a lot of hard work) I've gained a better sense of perspective.

I'm not speaking from a distance here, burnmp3s. I was there. And I know, probably better than you. So don't get dismissive about this. It's insulting.
posted by grubi at 11:50 AM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Whoa.

My post was in response to the posts by cmgonzalez and grubi. I'm inclined to be incredibly sympathetic to suicides, but I've seen a lot of MeFi discussions on this issue and people usually spend a lot of time digging into two very opposed positions. I think that people often conflate "selfish" and "malicious", so that was one point I made.

I was also trying to give an example of two extreme situations that probably wouldn't create a lot of controversy. Few people would condemn someone who was clinically insane, while few people would support someone who committed suicide with the intent of deliberately hurting others. (The last one is probably quite rare, if not a downright straw man, but I was trying to set up two extreme cases.)

A third type of suicide -- the one where you see a suicide note EXPLICITLY saying "You're better off without me" -- is the one that most people here would get into huge debates about. Yes, the depressed person is hurting and can't think straight. But they are so sunk into their own misery (as grubi states from his own experience) that they are not able to see other people's perspectives. This is self-centred, not malicious, but still causes immense pain to others.

If I knew where to draw the line -- Can we blame the suicide if they were given every chance to get therapy but refused? If they got therapy but dropped out? If they tried drugs but couldn't stand the side effects? If they were David Foster Wallace? -- I wouldn't be shy about saying so.

But I don't know, and I don't pretend to know. It's just a damn fact that too many perfectly loveable people kill themselves every year, leaving behind immense pain. If part of what can turn around a depressed person from trying suicide is honest discussion about how it is NEVER better for the people around them, that's fair. The biochemistry of depression can be a shitstorm, but many depressed people can be medicated or talked into a safer harbour. Suicide is not always inevitable. You can't save everyone, but you can certainly try.

(Disclaimer: no, I've never been suicidal, but I have known people who ended up killing themselves.)
posted by maudlin at 12:02 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not speaking from a distance here, burnmp3s. I was there. And I know, probably better than you. So don't get dismissive about this. It's insulting.

I didn't mean to be dismissive about your comment. To me you were not one of the typical people jumping into a thread to make an off-hand comment about how someone committing suicide are selfish, that was directed more to comments like lonefrontranger's. Your comment seemed to be a well thought out argument about the aspects of suicide that are selfish, and I'm not challenging that argument.

My main point was that to me selfishness is not the defining aspect of suicide. You can disagree with that, and as you said gaining perspective really was a big factor in your personal struggle with depression. But I think there are a lot more selfish people in the world than clinically depressed people that kill themselves, and that the amount of blaming and negativity directed at them after they die is for the most part unwarranted.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:15 PM on April 10, 2009


Reminds me of Dick Prosser in Thomas Wolfe's short story The Child by Tiger.
posted by mattdidthat at 12:22 PM on April 10, 2009


Excuse me? You seem to have ignored what I said. I've been there.

Just because you tried to kill yourself doesn't make you an expert on suicide.
posted by ryanrs at 12:39 PM on April 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


My main point was that to me selfishness is not the defining aspect of suicide.

Okay. I agree with that. I just don't want anyone to overlook or ignore that it *is* an aspect.

I had a friend, almost a year ago, die in my arms. He was 33, not yet 34. He was overweight, had hidden a heart attack from everyone, and ate and drank himself to death. I know how depressed he would get and how horrible he was treating himself, and I'm not just a little convinced that it was basically a passive suicide. Among the emotions I feel (grief, sadness, etc), I feel angry. Horribly angry that my friend of 21 years chose to let himself decay rather than embrace life. Angry that he came to me and asked for a place to stay -- which I volunteered years before -- just so he could drink himself into a fatal heart attack. Angry that he withheld very important information about his health. Angry that I was powerless to stop him or the process. He broke my fucking heart.

My anger is, I think, legitimate. He hurt me by allowing himself to be deleted from existence. He hurt my wife, who grew to love him as a brother. He hurt his sister, whom he called his best friend. He hurt his parents, and about 200+ people across the country, many of whom showed up to his memorial picnic a week later.

But knowing what I know about him (having known him so long and having uncovered a lot of his private written musings during the course of gathering his possessions together), I can say with confidence he was broken and wanted to die. It was selfish, in a very real way, and yes, you are right -- that doesn't define his pain. His, and likely the pain of many suicidal people, is complex.

Thanks for letting me rant at you a bit. Sorry if I came off angry.
posted by grubi at 12:42 PM on April 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


Just because you tried to kill yourself doesn't make you an expert on suicide.

You'd be surprised.
posted by grubi at 12:44 PM on April 10, 2009


From a link in one of the news articles...

The movie "The Bridge" parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
posted by atomicmedia at 12:44 PM on April 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


If only Joe Cocker had gotten around to recording his follow up to You Can Leave Your Hat On, we wouldn't be in this mess.
posted by Brak at 12:58 PM on April 10, 2009


Wow, some truly callous comments here. I know, I know, welcome to the internet, etc.

Suicide is not selfish. Suicide is the antithesis of selfishness. It is the annihilation of the self. The culmination of mental processes that result in the complete and utter degradation of the self.

Think of the mind as a function box, like the ones you used in fourth grade math class. Input and output. Function is x2. Input is 3, output equals 9. Easy. For the average person, the function inside the box changes constantly, adapting itself to the situation at hand, providing a proper and rational output for the inputted stimuli. This is normal cognitive function. In the mind of a potential suicide the function no longer correlates to reality. It generates output of a different kind. Recursive, self-nullifying, highly virulent. For some, it comes to an abrupt end. Function is x divided by zero. Input is any number, rational or irrational. Output is undefined. Program terminates.

It is very hard indeed to empathize with a suicide. To know and understand their peculiar mental state is impossible. But to sympathize, to have even the faintest sense of the crushing pain inflicted upon these people by their own minds, and to acknowledge it as real, should be the basic and automatic human response.

Joking about the dead is natural, even healthy. But judging them - pronouncing them one thing or another in a sentence or two, like a caption to a photograph - is indicative of a cold cowardice. It's a common reaction, I suppose, as most people just can't project themselves up onto that railing, barefoot. They've never felt alone in a crowd. They wouldn't think to trade one pain for another. And they should be grateful. Turn around and run.
posted by kurtroehl at 1:17 PM on April 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


If I am knocked down to the number four on my "Ways to Do Myself In" list, I will also be without my shoes. Not out of any sense of neatness, it's just that I'll need my toes for gripping if I want to give an Oriental massage to a tiger, for the roughly three seconds I'll last before it spins around and snaps off the head of the irritating primate standing on its back.
posted by adipocere at 1:17 PM on April 10, 2009


It is the annihilation of the self.

Which is incredibly selfish. To imagine oneself as so utterly consequential as to make the dramatic move of "eliminating the beast within"... selfish.

It is very hard indeed to empathize with a suicide.

Unless you've been on the brink yourself. It's a lot easier for me to empathize than you think. But don't tell me I cannot.

Thank you so much for your dramatic reading of depression and the pain it brings.
posted by grubi at 1:34 PM on April 10, 2009


Suicide is not selfish. Suicide is the antithesis of selfishness.

I disagree. It is the essence of selfishness in that the person committing the act is doing so for themselves, irrespective of the damage it might do to the people they leave behind. They don't want to suffer any more, they don't want to have to worry, or whatever. They just want it all to stop, and they do this either not thinking, or knowing and not caring about how it will affect those around them.

I don't say this as a condemnation of people who commit suicide. I've never been pushed far enough to reach that point, so I don't know how I'd react. But saying it isn't selfish because it's the annihilation of the self leaves off the salient fact that it's the destruction of the self for the self and no one else.
posted by quin at 1:36 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wanting people to stick around isn't selfish? "I know you are miserable, but I would like you to continue to suffer, because your continued existence pleases me."

All acts can be interpreted as selfish. Dying for your country? You have elevated the principle of "my country" even beyond your life. Any act of altruism could be construed as somewhere between selfish genes and the glow of pleasure from "doing the right thing." Continuing to exist is selfish; every bite of food you eat, the air you breathe, the space you take up, these could all go to someone more worthy. I am hard-pressed to think of anything I could not twist into being considered selfish from some standpoint.

Because of this, I find the concept of selfishness undecidable and therefore irrelevant. Even if an objective selfish-o-meter were to be developed, I do not necessarily think of the concept as a "bad thing."
posted by adipocere at 1:46 PM on April 10, 2009 [14 favorites]


Neither do I, adipocere. "Selfishness" by itself is neither good nor bad. It's whether it's constructive (e.g. altruism) or destructive. And wanting to kill yourself *is* selfish in a destructive way.
posted by grubi at 1:53 PM on April 10, 2009


feeling suicidal is not the same as committing suicide. nobody here has *ever* been depressed enough or in enough pain to kill themselves.
posted by sineater at 2:01 PM on April 10, 2009


Most people who survive suicide are happy to survive, especially if they get treatment for depression. Please read How Not to Commit Suicide. I link this article regularly and it's been posted to the front page. It's one of the best things I've ever read.
posted by theora55 at 2:03 PM on April 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


feeling suicidal is not the same as committing suicide

Often, the only difference is timing.
posted by setanor at 2:04 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


sineater : nobody here has *ever* been depressed enough or in enough pain to kill themselves.

I think you may need to elaborate here, because I'm pretty sure I've got examples across the whole of human history which refute this.
posted by quin at 2:08 PM on April 10, 2009


nobody here has *ever* been depressed enough or in enough pain to kill themselves.

Oh? So my attempt that was thwarted by two cops dragging me from a roof and into a mental institution was what exactly? I wasn't in ENOUGH pain?
posted by grubi at 2:10 PM on April 10, 2009


Oh? So my attempt that was thwarted by two cops dragging me from a roof and into a mental institution was what exactly? I wasn't in ENOUGH pain?

sorry, it occurred to me after I posted that I hadn't considered folks who survived their attempts. my apologies.
posted by sineater at 2:26 PM on April 10, 2009


Alright. No biggie, then.
posted by grubi at 2:29 PM on April 10, 2009


so, the point I was so clumsily trying to make is that while many of us seem to know what it feels like to be at the point of deciding to die, extremely few of us actually have felt that.
posted by sineater at 2:29 PM on April 10, 2009


Coming up for air
Its pretty stuffy under there
I'd like to say I didn't care
But I forgot to leave a note
And it's so hard to stay afloat
I'm soakin' wet without a boat
And I knew I should have taken off my shoes
It's front page news
Goin' down
Goin' down
posted by darksasami at 3:20 PM on April 10, 2009


Evelyn McHale was shoeless in Robert Wiles' iconic photo of her after she jumped from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.
posted by winna at 3:28 PM on April 10, 2009


New York City - corner of Liberty Street and West Street, (I always called it the West Side Highway, even that far south, apparently I was wrong) September 11th, 2001. The first aircraft had already impacted, and I was trying to cross the road. There were body parts on the road, some of which were being covered in sheets by Firefighters as I tried to cross the road. They told me not to look down, but I did. Then I looked up and the second aircraft was coming in. I ran back where I had come from, and noticed piles - and I mean PILES - of women's shoes on the sidewalk. Their owners were running. Fast.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 3:44 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have a real bone to pick with the "Suicide is Selfish" squad, and I mentioned this on another thread, but it bears some elaboration.

My brother was the very picture of normal until age 21, when he developed Schizo-Affective Disorder - a combination of bipolar disorder & paranoid schizophrenia. He had the extreme highs & lows associated with the former, and the disconnection from reality that comes with the latter. (This is how it was explained to me, perhaps a MeFite who works in health care can give a better description.)

My brother's doctors tried hard to find a combination of meds that would allow him to live a normal life, but he deteriorated very quickly, and his circle of friends abandoned him as his behavior became increasingly bizarre. Later, there were stretches of time where he would appear to be his old self, but he would revert after a few months.

So, two years ago - not long after his 25th birthday - my brother decided to get off the horrible merry-go-round of hospitals, pills, breakthroughs, plateaus, & relapses that his life was becoming, and he checked out of this world.

Guess what? I'm not angry at him. My parents aren't angry at him. There was nothing selfish about his decision. We love him, miss him, and will think about him every day for the rest of our lives, but the simple truth is that he was suffering worse than any of us will ever know.

Try having a regular phone conversation with a loved one as he attempts to argue with the voices in his head and still have a coherent discussion with you. Then think about what YOU would do when faced with his predicament.
posted by tantrumthecat at 4:41 PM on April 10, 2009 [12 favorites]


i don't think we should be talking about suicide in absolutes. i feel that people who choose to check out through suicide not just see but feel in every fiber of their body and soul the war between EITHER/OR. as being consumed by the pain and anguish of having to choose between being either selfish or selfless.

i feel that having to choose between two extremes is what pushes people to the nothingness. not being able to choose because at each end all that awaits in pain ... i don't know ... i feel they choose the nothing of the slash; that void that separates the two worlds of pain.

i have never been suicidal but have had people in my life commit suicide or tried to commit suicide. what i have experienced is depression so intense that it almost made me disabled. the pain that comes with depression can be excruciating. mine felt like i had been punched and kicked for ages, whacked with a crowbar on my back all the while going through labor. every muscle hurt. walking was an odyssey --there were mornings that the soles of my feet made me cry with each step.

and the thing was that i had no idea the pain was depression. i just plowed along like the mule i am, thinking it was something that just required some chiropractic adjustment or accupunture. i had no idea that this was the way my body expressed "Depression".

i told many times my doctor that even though i didn't have any thoughts about suicide, i could completely understand people killing themselves. am selfish enough to want to outlive most people :) but i also am an optimist at heart. i also love my kids more than anything else in the world and wouldn't deprive them of the awesome nagging of this mom of theirs. yet, i totally understand why jumping from a bridge would be better if their pain was worse than mine. because, honestly, i lived for almost 2 years in what was pure hell. i call 2008 "my lost year". hard to believe given how prolific a blogger i am.

so ... yeah. i don't think there needs to be a fight between selfish and selfless. for each, their own pain.
posted by liza at 7:31 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


My ex insists that the word for "horrifying, yet my brain insists it must be hilarious" is hilarifying. I continue to use it at least twice a week.
posted by honeydew at 8:48 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I made that comment after reading this one, and not the end of the thread. A proposal of the word "hilarifying" amidst a discussion of whether or not suicide is selfish is PRETTY DAMN HILARIFYING. Excuse me, I think I need to remove myself from the internet for the rest of the evening.
posted by honeydew at 8:58 PM on April 10, 2009


Removal of shoes (or hats) is both a symbol of humility and a way of cleaning yourself.

Maybe, but the only methods of suicide mentioned in the links in the original post are jumping and "suicide by lion", for lack of a more respectful phrase. If I were going to balance on the ledge of a building, even if planned on jumping, I would take my shoes off to make it easier. If I were going to scale a fence to get into a lion's den, I would take my shoes and socks off to have a better grip.

I'd be interested to know if people who shoot themselves take off their shoes first. I imagine most people who overdose do, because they probably lie down after taking the pills.
posted by Evangeline at 9:58 PM on April 10, 2009


diogenes: "That's not funny at all, yet my brain insists on parsing it as funny. There's got to be a word for that, or a description of the phenomenon at the psychological level. Hopefully Malcolm Gladwell is working on a chapter about it in his next book.

Maybe it happens because we picture descriptions like that as cartoons, with no real tragedy (or maybe that's just me). I'm sure if I was there or saw pictures I'd be properly horrified.
"

I think bjrn nailed it with "incongruous juxtaposition". She lands on a teen? Horrible. She lands on an empty massage chair? Sad. She lands on a teen sitting idly in a massage chair? Awful.

But: she lands on a teen relaxing in a massage chair? Blackly funny. It's the clash of the terrible suffering and the blissful unawareness that does it.

CitrusFreak12: "I'm conflicted as to how I feel about this--taking off one's shoes before jumping to one's death, I mean."

Same here. It's somehow just unspeakably sad. Like an older, respected gentleman who carefully dresses up in his best suit, lights the fireplace, and lays out his parlor just so before putting a gun in his mouth. There's the sense that they were searching for some dignity, trying to push away the banality and pedestrianism that is associated with one's everyday appearance before stepping off into the unknown.

It reminds me of Moses encountering God:

And He said, "Draw not near here: take the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground." (Ex. 3:5)
posted by Rhaomi at 11:00 PM on April 10, 2009


theora55: "Most people who survive suicide are happy to survive, especially if they get treatment for depression. Please read How Not to Commit Suicide. I link this article regularly and it's been posted to the front page. It's one of the best things I've ever read."

From one of the suicide notes at the end, after the author of the note rants angrily at his wife for few lines:
Cathy -- don't come in.

Call your mother, she will know what to do.

Love

Daddy

Cathy don't go in the bedroom.
That is just... horrifying. And depressing.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:04 AM on April 11, 2009


"But: she lands on a teen relaxing in a massage chair? Blackly funny. It's the clash of the terrible suffering and the blissful unawareness that does it."

In a class paper on the History of Jazz, I described the bright music played at New Orlands funerals or Mack the Knife as a "morose juxtaposition." If I had to pick a word for the event, it'd be Schadenfreude. If you give me two, how about "Schadenfreudic irony".
posted by pwnguin at 12:10 AM on April 11, 2009


If she had landed on the kid and crushed his penis, that would have been Schadenfreudic.
posted by bjrn at 12:52 AM on April 11, 2009


Suicide is largely self-centered, but only some suicides are "selfish." The selfish suicides might be the ones performed by people in terrible physical or mental pain, but otherwise of minds sound enough to understand all the implications of the act they plan to commit. If we need to call mental anguish-induced suicides selfish, then we should also extend this drive for correctness to the physical anguish-induced self-euthanasias committed by cancer patients.

Likely most suicide attempts come from people whose minds are dividing by zero, temporarily or not. (Thank you, kurtroehl, for being the only other person I've known to describe severe mental illness this way.) To call these "selfish" is absurd in a philosophical and a scientific sense. A computer and a mind equally cannot be held responsible for bad output if the code is buggy. An act cannot be selfish if the self that would ordinarily have been able to exert control has warped or disassociated. Is no longer there.

On the topic of selfishness, as adipocere pointed out, "undecidable and therefore irrelevant" is very often the wisest way to go.

We agree as a society that for many infractions, insanity or diminished capacity are good reasons not to hold someone culpable. Suicide, being still a criminal offense in some locales, probably deserves at least the courtesy of those possibilities. And in the case of a "selfish" one, suicide deserves at least our acknowledgment that none of us can ever really step into another human being's shoes, let alone out of them.
posted by jeeves at 1:37 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wednesday, a woman jumped from the top tier of the Queens Center Mall,
And didn't have the human decency to make sure the path was clear. What an inconsiderate moron.


You sound surprised by that. Makes perfect sense to me - if I try to imagine what a person committing suicide would be thinking at that moment, I'm leaning a lot more towards "Fuck all of you people," than "Gee I hope this doesn't inconvenience anyone." I don't know for sure, of course, but in all of the suicide situations I've somehow been around in some way, it's seemed like it was intended to be a big angry middle finger to one or more people, or just everyone generally.

Interesting, though. I'm going to be subconsciously watching for the shoe thing now, I know it.
posted by ctmf at 2:54 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


...if I try to imagine what a person committing suicide would be thinking at that moment, I'm leaning a lot more towards "Fuck all of you people," than "Gee I hope this doesn't inconvenience anyone."

Speaking of inconveniencing, here in Tokyo (as I'm sure many of you know) suicidal people very often take themselves to the Great Beyond by jumping into the path of oncoming trains. What's probably less known is that the rail companies (usually Japan Railways, or JR) often send the surviving next-of-kin an enormous bill to defray the costs of the inevitable delays in train service that result.

From the Wiki Rail transport in Japan: "Trains are also used as a means to commit suicide. Its relative popularity is partly due to its practical ease, and to avoid causing a nuisance to one's family, though families are often charged or sued by the railway companies to compensate for the trouble caused by the accident. A typical suicide may cause delays between one and a few hours [citation needed] on one or more lines. The costs to the surviving families by the railway companies' "delay fee" is often in the 100 million yen range."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:10 AM on April 11, 2009


Evangeline: Maybe, but the only methods of suicide mentioned in the links in the original post are jumping and "suicide by lion",

No, the 'Japan' link is not about jumping - that link has people taking off their shoes at the edge of a forest and walking in to die of exposure; more here.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:41 AM on April 11, 2009


Never mind the cost, what about the poor train driver who has to live with the knowledge that they may have killed someone. Having been in a train that someone stepped out in front of, I often think about how the driver must have felt to see a woman suddenly appear spread-eagled on his windscreen and then disappear under the train to be run over by all six carriages. At least if you are going to take yourself out, do it in such a way that doesn't leave someone else lying awake at nights wondering if they are to blame. Now that's selfish.
posted by dg at 5:42 AM on April 11, 2009


Oh, absolutely, dg. The train drivers are certainly very often traumatized and haunted by the terrible scenes you've mentioned, and typically, there's no official sort of counseling in place (from JR or any government agency) to help the drivers cope. I read that in the event of a suicide the driver is instructed to get out of the train and go inspect the tracks (jesus...) and... CLEAR BODY PARTS FROM TRACKS. Can you effing believe that?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:53 AM on April 11, 2009


Suicide is not one thing or the other. I feel very much for tantrumthecat. I lost a brother under similar circumstances. But living was torture to him, for no reason other than mental illness. We all understood a little bit when he died, and none of us could really imaging him carrying on living. But I also lost a wife who killed herself after I found out she was having an affair. That left our son without a mother. That was selfish, even if she wasn't thinking straight (which she wasn't). Two very very different cases. Suicide is neither selfish nor not selfish. Making stark claims one way or the other will necessarily rub some people up the wrong way.
posted by stonepharisee at 8:51 AM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


No, the 'Japan' link is not about jumping - that link has people taking off their shoes at the edge of a forest and walking in to die of exposure; more here.

They found a pair of shoes at the edge of the woods. They never found a body. The article does mention that the Japanese are likely to take off there shoes before committing suicide, but it doesn't say what type of suicide, and there is no mention of a tradition of suicide by exposure - it's just a hypothesis to explain what happened to the owner of those particular shoes.

Of course I could be wrong. Again, I just wonder about suicides by firearm, because I can't think of any reason to take off your shoes in that scenario.
posted by Evangeline at 11:03 AM on April 11, 2009


To my knowledge, JR (and other rail lines) do not sue to families of the committers of suicide. There is no familial inheritance of debt, so you have no claim to that kind of a lawsuit. They do send bills, but these are those bills which the payer has no legal responsibility to pay. The same thing happens with debt collections in the US (I think it was on This American Life a while ago). You send the bill, and if someone responds with a direct "Do I have to pay?", you have to say "No, you don't have to", but most don't ask, and most pay (at least, in Japan).

The only lawsuit I can think of would be if the rail line tried to get the monies from the accounts of the deceased themselves, and the families refused to disburse it, in which case the lawsuit would be more over who gets the monies of the deceased (the family or JR). There's no way you can get after the separately owned money of a family member.

"I read that in the event of a suicide the driver is instructed to get out of the train and go inspect the tracks (jesus...) and... CLEAR BODY PARTS FROM TRACKS. Can you effing believe that?"

Hmm...I've also read, in a Japanese book of lousy jobs, that there are people who handle precisely that, so I think the train drivers having to do it themselves may be an urban legend.

"there is no mention of a tradition of suicide by exposure"

Well...there was a tradition like that (rather, perhaps we would call it murder/suicide by exposure), where people would take their frail elderly parents up a mountain and abandon them there because they couldn't take care of the parents anymore. The parents (generally) were accepting of this, which would make it suicide, but the idea usually came from their children, which would make it murder. However, nevertheless, that was a past tradition that is gone. Japanese who commit suicide in the forest now generally go for hanging / cutting / pills. Sure, many of them may fail in the original suicide attempt, only to die of exposure, but that's quite different from going into the forest to die of exposure.

"I don't know for sure, of course, but in all of the suicide situations I've somehow been around in some way, it's seemed like it was intended to be a big angry middle finger to one or more people, or just everyone generally."

I imagine there's a big spread. In Japan, last year, committing suicide by mixing household cleaners was the big fad (VERY big fad). The police even had people pull down the recipes from their homepages. But because suicide is via poison gas, there was a lot of risk of other folks (neighbors, EMTs, etc.) getting hurt too, so most people put up signs warning those around that there was poison gas. So, no, trying to avoid hurting others when killing oneself isn't an unheard of or even unusual phenomenon, nor, of course, is it universal.
posted by Bugbread at 12:36 PM on April 11, 2009


So this explains the guy that threw his shoes at President Bush?
posted by blue_beetle at 1:58 PM on April 11, 2009


re: The "suicide is selfish" "no it isn't" discussion further upthread -

The few times I have earnestly contemplated suicide, I was never thinking "they would be better off without me", but rather "I want them to feel bad and blame themselves". Might be an atypical case, though.
posted by tehloki at 2:00 PM on April 11, 2009


I think of calling suicide selfish as primarily meant to dissuade people from committing suicide. I have reminded myself that it is selfish, that it would hurt my mother if I killed myself, in order to stop fantasizing that there is "an easy way out", at times. As discussed earlier, being too "pro-choice" about suicide can leave suicidal people with even less to hold on to.

Do you think of it as judging them once they're gone? I doubt it's commonly meant that way, but really, who cares? They certainly aren't going to be offended. I suppose you could argue it's rude to families left behind, but if it encourages some people still around not to jump, perhaps that's an acceptable downside.

On an abstract level, before it's done, committing suicide is selfish. But once it's happened, it's just a tragedy (and anyone uninvolved commenting or passing judgment on an actual tragedy is clearly out of line; those involved have stages to go through).
posted by mdn at 3:20 PM on April 11, 2009


I don't know whether suicide is selfish, but depression is definitely self-absorbed.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:21 AM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


This post reminded me of that famous Life suicide photograph. I checked to see if her shoes were on. They're not.
posted by tellurian at 9:48 PM on April 13, 2009


I checked to see if her shoes were on. They're not.

Yet her gloves are. I suspect they fell off on impact.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:35 AM on April 14, 2009


Hmm… one maybe, but both came off on impact and neither of them on the hood? This post would suggest that she took them off.
posted by tellurian at 4:01 PM on April 14, 2009


New York Times, May 1, 1947, Empire State Ends Life of Girl, 20

At 10:40 A. M., Patrolman John Morrissey of Traffic C, directing traffic at Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue, noticed a swirling white scarf floating down from the upper floors of the Empire State. A moment later he heard a crash that sounded like an explosion. He saw a crowd converge in Thirty-third Street.

Two hundred feet west of Fifth Avenue, Miss McHale’s body landed atop the car. The impact stove in the metal roof and shattered the car’s windows. The driver was in a near-by drug store, thereby escaping death or serious injury.

On the observation deck, Detective Frank Murray of the West Thirtieth Street station, found Miss McHale’s gray cloth coat, her pocketbook with several dollars and the note, and a make-up kit filled with family pictures.


The article doesn't specifically mention them finding shoes on the observation deck, but she did take off her coat and leave her purse behind, which does fit with the general theme of preparing before the jump.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:44 AM on April 15, 2009


Let me make a correction:

That was from the May 2, 1947 New York Times article "Empire State Leap Ends Life of Girl, 20"

The full text states:

Returning yesterday morning from a visit to her fiancé, an ex-GI attending Lafayette College at Easton, PA., an attractive 20-year-old bookkeeper plunged to her death from the eighty-sixth floor observation deck of the Empire State Building. Her body crashed atop a parked United Nations Assembly car in Thirty-third Street.

“I don’t think I would make a good wife for anyone,” she wrote in a note.

She was later identified by her sister, Mrs. Helen Brennan, with whom she lived at 7 Southard Street, Baldwin, L.I., as Evelyn McHale. Since last February Miss McHale had been employed at the Kitab Engraving Company, 40 Pearl Street.

At 10:40 A. M., Patrolman John Morrissey of Traffic C, directing traffic at Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue, noticed a swirling white scarf floating down from the upper floors of the Empire State. A moment later he heard a crash that sounded like an explosion. He saw a crowd converge in Thirty-third Street.

Two hundred feet west of Fifth Avenue, Miss McHale’s body landed atop the car. The impact stove in the metal roof and shattered the car’s windows. The driver was in a near-by drug store, thereby escaping death or serious injury.

On the observation deck, Detective Frank Murray of the West Thirtieth Street station, found Miss McHale’s gray cloth coat, her pocketbook with several dollars and the note, and a make-up kit filled with family pictures.

posted by Pollomacho at 7:01 AM on April 15, 2009


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