Notes on the end of one man’s life

April 30, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 30, 2016

Author’s note: The following post relates to mental illness and self-harm and may not be appropriate for readers who are younger or especially sensitive. Potentially upsetting material appears immediately “after the jump.” MEM


On Thursday, I was told that a man I knew had taken his own life at some point over the past few days. I’m not sure how or exactly when he committed suicide, but our mutual friend — he goes by U— for the purposes of this post — learned about the death Thursday afternoon and called to let me know.

I’ll call the dead man F—, in part but not solely because his mother told U— that she was not eager to have news of his death shared online. I knew both him and U— through Scrabble, and while I wasn’t particularly close with F—, I did like him and find him to be an interesting person.

F— apparently had a history of mental illness, and I gather that he’d attempted suicide on a couple of occasions. U— may have been the last person F— communicated with before his suicide, and U— couldn’t help but be haunted by that. On Thursday afternoon, U— was thinking about their last text exchanges and wondering how things might have played out if he’d done or said something differently.

I told U— that he couldn’t blame himself and that he should feel good about having tried to be a supportive friend. Not only had they seen each other the day before, over the months and years, U— had often encouraged F— to try things, including therapy, that might have ameliorated his depression and occasional insomnia. Unfortunately, F— had largely resisted making the changes recommended by U— and others he knew.

As mentioned, I was not particularly close with F—. But the truth is that I have very little experience with death; the only people close to me who have died are my grandparents and my Uncle Jack. And so it’s weird to me to think that I’ll never see F— or hear his voice again.

Let me finish by making a few practical points.

If you are struggling and need help, please reach out to your loved ones, but remember that they can’t always understand what you’re going through. It’s important to talk to a trained professional. A good place to start is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; it can be reached at any time, day or night, at 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline’s website is

If you aren’t depressed but know someone who is, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers these tips on how to help someone who may be feeling suicidal. The Lifeline’s website also has pages devoted to people who have survived their own suicide attempts, those whose loved ones have committed suicide, and depressed individuals who are young adults as well as those who are veterans, bullying victims, Spanish speakers or hearing-impaired. The site has plenty of other resources, too, including a list of warning signs that someone may be suicidal.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), which is affiliated with the World Health Organization, maintains a list of crisis centers located all over the planet at IASP even lists online crisis intervention services. Residents of other countries can also find help at Befrienders Worldwide, which offers pages in more than 20 different languages. As is the case with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, both of these sites feature plenty of information about suicide.

Finally, try to be understanding and compassionate toward others, even if they annoy you, and even if they have opinions or act in ways that you find objectionable. To paraphrase the 19th century British pastor John Watson, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

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