Introduction to Why Suicide? Questions & Answers About Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and Coping with the Suicide of Someone You Know

by Eric Marcus

I’m sorry that you have any reason to read this book.  But the sad fact is that almost everyone is touched at some point in life by suicide, whether it’s the suicide or attempted suicide of someone we know or our own passing self-destructive thoughts.

No matter what the circumstances, there are always questions for those of us who are affected by suicide.  When I was twelve, my father took his life.  His death was devastating, the circumstances painfully perplexing and embarrassing.  I was hurt, angry, guilt-ridden, and ashamed, and I didn’t know why.  I had so many questions, but there was no one who could provide the answers and perspective I desperately needed.  The adults in my life didn’t have the answers to give and, as I later learned, had few places in 1970 to find them even if they had looked.  And to be fair, most of them were devastated themselves and had little emotional energy or wherewithal to consider what was going on for a well-behaved and outwardly brave little boy who didn’t shed a tear at his father’s funeral.

From the start of my writing career, I was determined to create the kind of book that would have helped my family help me cope with the circumstances of my father’s death.  I also wanted to write a book that could serve as a broad resource for anyone whose life has been touched by suicide.

Inevitably, the experience of writing the original Why Suicide?—and then revisiting the book fourteen years later to write this new edition—has helped me find answers to many of the unanswered questions about suicide that I carried with me for years.  Writing this book gave me the excuse I needed to ask the questions I was afraid to ask and to find answers when there were answers to be found.  And it certainly gave me the excuse to talk to family members, track down my father’s old friends, and to subsequently fill in as many blanks as I could about what was going on in my father’s mind and in his life at the time he killed himself.  Through my research I also had the opportunity to speak with many people who have lived through a similar experience.   Perhaps that was most comforting of all—to discover that I wasn’t alone, that there are plenty of people in the world who understand in a visceral way what it is like to live through (and with) the trauma of a loved one’s suicide.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject of suicide.  And I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker.  I’m a journalist by training.  So in researching this book I did what journalists do and interviewed a lot of people—including many experts.  I read magazine and newspaper articles, scanned the pages of numerous books, and searched the web.  I also watched educational videos and documentary films about suicide.

What I learned about suicide, you’ll find in the pages that follow.  I’ve included a broad range of questions, from the very basic to the extremely specific.  In response to these questions, you’ll find brief answers, long answers, anecdotes, opinion, and conjecture.  A few questions will leave you with more questions, because I’ve included questions that don’t yet have definitive answers.  And in the end you may not find the answers you were looking for because, as I discovered in my own search for answers, it’s almost impossible to find satisfying or complete answers to the question of why someone we care about would want to die by suicide.

You’ll meet many different people in Why Suicide? Some give answers to questions; others provide stories that help support a point.  When I’ve used quotes or anecdotes from experts and those whose stories have been made public previously, I’ve used complete names.  When I’ve quoted private citizens or used their anecdotes—some of which are composites drawn from several different people—I’ve used only first names and altered identifying characteristics when asked to protect the privacy of the people I’m quoting.  (Several of the private citizens I interviewed were perfectly comfortable using their full names, but I wasn’t comfortable putting them in the public eye.)

Why Suicide? includes scores of questions, but not all the possible questions are here, nor are all the answers.  My goal in writing this book was to create a resource that was easy to read, easy to digest, and not overwhelming in details or length.  There are plenty of other books on this subject—many of which were very useful resources for me in writing this one—that provide in depth and very detailed information about suicide (for a list of these books please have a look at the “Appendix”).  But if there’s a question I’ve missed that you would like answered, or if you have an answer to a question that I didn’t have an answer for or that you feel I didn’t answer adequately, write to me at or through my web site,, and I promise to write you back with the information you need or I’ll recommend a resource that can be of help.

I hope that the questions and answers in Why Suicide? bring understanding and comfort for all of you who have in some way been touched by suicide.


12 Responses to “Introduction to Why Suicide? Questions & Answers About Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and Coping with the Suicide of Someone You Know

  1. Justin says:

    My cousin committed suicide last night (4/17/2011) he left his a loving older sister and younger brother, his mother and father, ten first cousins, aunts and uncles and grandfather and grandmother from different sides of his family and too many friends to count. He left a note then shot himself in his parents front yard for his mother to find in the morning. I don’t understand but that doesn’t really matter. I don’t understand why he would do that to his parents. To his brother and sister, to our grandfather and his grandmother. No one seemed to know he was hurting that bad. He was out the two nights before. Was he out that night too? In a way he must of been. I don’t understand. One of my first thoughts this morning was; do I now start doing those suicide prevention walks? I have thought about doing them before but I guess I wasn’t “touched” enough. If I do them now will it seem like to much? Or how bout too little? Why didn’t he leave us with all of these questions? Speaking of questions, if I’m having them here on the other side of the country how must those feel who lived with him every day. He was my cousin. I grew up with him and considered him a friend as well as family but he was not my son nor was he my brother; why would he leave them all with so many questions? I thought of him on Saturday, I saw a poster for a band from back east coming to town. He was a drummer. I thought I bet he’d like it out here. What if I would have called? If I have these questions from three thousand miles away what must the questions be like back east? I don’t understand. – I don’t know that any of us ever will understand.

  2. Dyan says:

    Arguments With Your Suicide On January 1, 2011

    There’s a hard rain falling on one side
    And you on the other
    The sharp, like the edge of a knife memories, cutting into the straight-ahead
    And your voice whispering from behind me
    Hinting that you will close your eyes for good
    For what good I yell back?

    Relentless arguments with a beautiful dead man
    I talk you back into your coffin and nail down the lid
    To give myself and everyone else a moment’s relief
    You practice staying there with all your
    Pretending-to-be-kind but then you’re back
    Haunting my assumptions into misunderstandings

    Write, edit, smoke, act, swim, sing, play guitar, make video.
    You could and did everything: You did and un-did me.
    I thought we were making drawings out of the lines that don’t get crossed
    Forever friends dissolving into days that settle into forever gone
    What did you expect, that I would forgive you? That I would forgive myself?
    Baby it’s hard and talented work and I’m yet unskilled

    I’m the one with the lifetime left to explore your ashes
    Rubbing them between my fingers to find your head, your heart, your bones
    You decided, you wanted this, you hid away from arguments and love
    You told me your stories and then decided to stop breathing
    And in the un-still what do I do with everything?
    There are no paths or bridges or willing back

    So I say NO, I wake myself up hearing my voice say NO
    I say it out loud when I’m sweeping the dust from the corners of the stairs
    Or towel drying my hair
    I count the days away and its already a new year dragging in more cold and slush
    There must also be yes somewhere as I’m still alive
    To mark time passing that makes an in-between separating you and now

  3. Jani says:

    I am in similar circumstance. My step-daughter hung herself in May. She was found in time to get her heart started, but she never re-gained conscieousness & died 2 days later.
    My questions are all about why she would do this to all the people who loved her? Didn’t she care about any of us? Didn’t she understand how much we loved her? We showed her & told her all the time, but either it wasn’t enough or she didn’t share our feelings. I am feeling a level of anger at her for putting the idea of suicide in the heads of our younger children & putting them in jeopardy of a similar end. I am feeling desperate to go back in time & make it not be true. How could this happen? Why did this happen? I have looked at pictures of her smiling & laughing & enjoying life & I can see no signs of anything other than joy in her. Our hearts are broken & I am terrified they can never be put back together.

  4. Karrie says:

    My mom killed herself 12 years ago and I am still asking questions. But, most recently I am struggling with a new issue. I am angry at the mom that killed my mom. It is like I am looking at two different people. The nice, loving, warm person and then there is this other person who decided to end her life. And, the 2 people are different – but, the same. And, I am so confused. I want to be angry and hate that person who did that. This is a new feeling for me – in all of these years – new feelings and questions still occur.

  5. peggylee says:

    on june 27,2011,my very loving handsome well educated 22 year old grandson who was married to his highschool sweetheart and they had a 3yr. old son and a 1yr. old daughter took a very large hand gun and commited suicide. He left all of us that loved him with broken hearts and no answers to our many questions of ‘why’ ? and how could life have been so untolerable for him? especially since we all loved him so much and would do whatever it would take to help him. It feels like we will never feel unbroken again ever . We will always miss him and wish we could have helped him. Unfortunitly though, his children will never know him like we did and experience the kind of wonderful dad he would have been. It’s not been that long since he left us and we’re not looking forward to the long painful grieving process ahead.If only we could turn back the clock and change this outcome -but we can’t.

  6. I am presently reading your book “Why Suicide” and would like to share my story, my brother Jimmy hung himself on 7/3/89 I found him and cut him down w/ my at the time 2 y/o daughter, Jimmy was the last person his freinds and fam would have expected to do this, he was an outstanding musician in Woodstock NY, a clown always making people laugh always seems so very vibrant, he was wearing a clown mask as I now learn to cover his deep dark pain, he could make people laugh at a funeral, he left behind 2 toddlers, I became an EMT w/ the hope that if I could help just 1 person my mission would be accomplished and to my surprise I helped more then 1, I learned that people who wanted to end their lives listen more so to one who has walked that path b/4 , they need to be reminded of survivors such as myself, I now suffer from PTSD as you may well understand, I have seeked mental health but it has not made me feel any better, hence the reason it hs not helped is because I was talking to people who have not walked in my shoes, so I would sit there and realize that, the night b/4 his ending he left me a msg, he thought I had one of those recorders that you can hear the person and it was v/m from my job at the time, the msg said Jacque I need you I need to talk , I did not get the msg until the morning of, that msg plays over and over again in my mind, I hate to think my brother thought I was ignoring him at such a time of need. I have set up an acct on FB for his children who are now adults and never got to know thier Dad of which all his freinds share stories of their dad and pics. As an EMT I worked in a district of which had 2 max prsions (Lifers) so I have been on many suicide calls , I have no problem sharing my story w/ the inmates but I use the survivor angle, that they have a mother and children that will have to live w/ this all their lives while the inmate is out of their pain. Seems to work, I have a call which plays over and over again in my head, it was a 17 y/o boy who put his head on a table saw, thank God he was not sucessful, but that, in all my career had been the most violent attempt I have ever seen. My daughter suffers from bi-polar and is under mental healh care but there are never any garantees there, so I am on constant alert, I deal w/ my issue quite well as a matter of fact when I tell people about my brother their reaction is so funny as they don’t know what to say if they haven’t experienced it themsleves which is quite normal, and his close freinds sware he did not do this himself, I believe it makes them feel better to think he wouldn’t do this . We are an Italian family so of course relatives being old world make up excuses like he died in an accident, there are so many facets to suicide, it was important to me that his children know their REAL father as they always wondered why didn’t he love us enough to stay around they have now been assured that this is not the case at all, Jimmy had never made any attempts he was on a mission and he suceeded, sadly. Even more sad is Jimmy was quite the musician, brother, son, father, friend he lit up rooms everywhere he went and he didn’t see it himself. There isn’t a day that goes by that he is not in my heart and soul, I never got angry as I have looked back on many signals and I now understand however that doesn’t make it any better cause he is still gone I would do anything to go back in time and rewind that fateful morning. It seems when someone takes their life you can never come to terms w/ it not like a cancer pt. or someone suffering from terminal illness, Jimmy left a very brief note he said to his children I love you and please forgive me for what I did, and he also added the Cat Stevens song Father to Son I have played that over and over again and the words make sense as to how he felt. Thank you for writing the book on what is a very taboo subject. Peace, Jacque Manganaro

  7. Diane Jones says:


  8. Jeannie says:

    My brother hung himself in 97′ my mom found him and found a neighbor and cut him down. he had been gone for hours. He was a drug addict and a survivor of abuse and trauma, as I am. He had a daughter who was 4 at the time, a year later, her mom, hi ex, killed herself. They left their little girl an orphan, both parents gone by suicide. she has turned into an amazing young woman with great goals and a great outlook on life. Before my brother died I never considered suicide even one time, then the depression hit and I have made several attempts on my life. His suicide changed who I am. I struggle every day and I am so good at putting on a happy face and a show for those around me. I have 3 grown sons and a husband who is wonderful. I try to remember every day how all this has changed me, and how I don’t want to affect my family that way. I miss my brother but I’m also angry with him. My mom has never been the same, he hung himself in her bedroom. I understand his reasons and his pain. I wish I could change things, I wish I could be different. I don’t have any answers. I think we have to be careful with our judgements.

  9. Cyndi Green says:

    I havent read your book but i have read many about suicide. I loss my son Jeremy age 32 to suicide 16 months ago. My son left no note , just a text message asking us to forgive him….his siter called 911 for help and went to him she callled his cell he answered and told her ” Jen u were a great sister u cant save me , not this time as u see this wasnt his first attempt he had about 5 before he completed his death by suicide on… Oct 2 , 2010. I have forgiven him for this and i find peace now knowing he is safe and pain free, yes im selfish i want him here with us, but as his mom i now carry his pain. I pray daily for my son to come to me in a dream but nothin yet I gave up asking WHY it will only prolong the healing . Hugs to all

  10. Nancy Baughn says:

    I lost a boyfriend to suicide back in the late 1960′s (on December 10th). He was 17 and killed himself in his mom’s car by attaching a vacuum cleaner hose to the tailpipe and gassing himself. How heartbreaking it had to have been for her! I heard he left a note, but I never knew what it said, It broke my heart and tortured me for years to lose him that way, but I finally was able to accept it. Then on July 6, 1987 my father went out in his and mom’s backyard and shot himself in the mouth with a 380. After seeing his body at the hospital I went to their house and cleaned up the mess he left behind so my mom wouldn’t have to. I was so angry with him and kept muttering something like “well you finally finished something you started, good job Dad!”~ when I think of that now I just think how sick; it just makes me sick. I have struggled in every relationship I’ve had since that time: with my kids, my mom, sister, ex-husband and new husband (who is now also an ex). I feel like I will never have a healthy stable relationship because I am always in a state of vigilance, waiting for the other shoe to drop or something…wondering who will be next. After my dad’s death I lost an uncle the same way, then many years later my best friend shot herslef in the heart (in front of her 13 year old daughter!). I guess to make a long story short all I can say is this: when a person commits suicide they do not end their pain; they give it to us to bear for them, for the rest of our lives! I suffer from depression and PTSD…but I love them all and I will bear their pain…and I will survive. Thanks to you all for sharing your experiences with suicide. We are the walking wounded.

  11. Susan says:

    Suicide, such a sudden anf mysterious life changing,
    time altering event. My “calabash” daughter committed
    suicide August 30, 2012 in her Lower East Side apartment.
    Her smile, her smile supposed she was happy and connected
    to her friends who she seemed to always be helping them. We
    didn ‘t see her unbearable pain, loneliness, isolation. Such a deep
    hole she couldn’t climb out of despite people being an arm’s length
    away. Still, she’s here. Her sweet life cut short is filled with
    messages – embrace each other. Be close, be kinder, every day, include
    people no matter who they are – care about them. You never know
    who is in the throes of unbearable cycle of too much pain.

  12. Fred says:

    My best friend since second grade used a .44. My mother used alcohol, a much slower more demanding instrument. I recently had a liver transplant from following mothers example. I have explained to my wife that I need a gun because we have a beautiful daughter that goes to school everyday without us and I am scared since the Sandy Hook school shooting. I search the www whenever I am overwhelmed with wanting to try again. This site has helped quell the need as so many b4.

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