Emily Post's Etiquette: Suicide Notes

IN writing a suicide note, as in all other forms of social observance, the highest achievement is in giving the appearance of simplicity, naturalness, and joie de vivre. Foolhardy is the despondent correspondent who presupposes that imminent offing renders such appearance negligible. Quite the contrary: the last impression is of even greater consequence than the first!

Sadly, the art of suicide note–writing in the present day is shrinking to the point that the note itself threatens to become an e-mail, a text, a tweeted string of weeping cat emojis. There are of course those determined depressives who continue to pen suicide notes—employing a fresh turn of phrase here, a delightful keenness of observation there—but the point is that the practice demands effort, which is precisely the thing the melancholic Millennial seems to consider it wholly unreasonable to expend.

For these lazy lachrymose youths, some frankness: If subject-verb agreement brings you to tears, if you’d rather die than piece together a coherent paragraph, if the whole epistolary enterprise seems hopeless and you simply cannot write a suicide note to save your life: then don’t. It is far from certain that friends, family, and the relevant authorities would not rather have nothing in lieu of a suicide note all too obviously displaying the meagerness of its message in out-to-lunch orthography and slapdash semantics!

I. Improving the Suicide Note’s Appearance

The suicide note is a reflection of taste and character, and a “sloppy” note badly worded and spelled, with unmatched paper and envelope, reeking of vodka and scrawled in blood reflects not some enticing insouciance but disinterest, disdain, and disregard—assuredly not the impression one wishes to leave directly before self-shuffling off this mortal coil!

While it is permissible to produce a suicide note with word processer and printer, it is the handwritten note on fine stationery that truly registers. One must take care to write neatly and legibly even while wailing, and to choose a tasteful paper. Mailing the note is not compulsory but, when appropriate, can be a thoughtful touch—though visits to the post office can be difficult for the woebegone wordsmith, already so sorrow-sodden and frustration-full. 

II. Beginning the Suicide Note

For those peering over the precipice of personally performed dispatch, beginning the suicide note is far and away the most arduous step of the whole undertaking. Pitfalls are plentiful. Here is an example of how not to begin a suicide note:

March 31, 2015

Oh CRUEL World!!!!!!!

Well I tried and tried but you just wouldn’t listen so now here we are. Happy?????

This is most certainly improper, starting with the form of address, which manages to be vague, pretentious, pejorative, sensational, and ungrammatical all at once. One should avoid random capitalization and repetitive punctuation, which is not merely tacky but also indicates insanity, and one must always ensure the subject to whom the suicide note is directed is made eminently clear, e.g.:

Dear God Who Does Not Exist
Dear Messrs. Thanatos & Reaper
Dear Martian in My Head

The above opening line (“Well I tried and tried . . . ”) is also much too egotistical, accusatory, redundant, gloomy, and plain boring. Far better to open a suicide note with an acute observation, or with an intriguing and humorous anecdote; one should endeavor in the first several lines to both engage the reader and tactfully display one’s own erudition and wit. And don’t skimp on that joie de vivre! E.g.: 

Camus once wrote that it was in the depths of winter when he found, within himself, an invincible summer. To which I say, Good for Camus!


Not long ago, on a visit to the Kunstmuseum in Basel, I happened upon a stirring painting, a Lichtenstein. It was titled Hopeless. I got to thinking . . . 

III. The Middle Part

An acquaintance was recently in receipt of a suicide note that contained the following passage:

And anyway, it won’t be long now before I’m floating along the River Styx—if I can afford the ferry, I guess (ha ha). We all know making money’s never been my strong suit, right Dolores? Not to mention I don’t do well on boats.

Fully dreadful! Irredeemably self-pitying and dreary. For composing the middle of a suicide note the instruction is straightforward and of a piece: be friendly, be jaunty, be fulsome with compliments, and don’t neglect to note things like pertinent passwords, when the Times subscription expires, and where you stored the cheese slate. E.g.:

Which is all to say that night on Capri was a gas and to thank you for introducing us to Paolo, who remains a dear friend. Speaking of Paolo, have you heard he’s been named the Teatro di Tagliatelle’s undersecretary for internal pipe organs? Marvelous, isn’t it? Oh, please do make sure Eleanor receives my chartreuse tassel loafers (which are behind the sofa, inside the cat)—she does adore them so.


Miss Marzipan, I must confess an abiding admiration for your intelligence, quick laugh, and shapely ear lobes; it was a pleasure to know you as my pet skink. And Thomas, trusty greengrocer! I’ve always loved you! My tuning fork is hidden beneath the Dutch oven.

IV. Ending the Suicide Note

An intimate letter has no end at all, but a suicide note is an end in itself. A smart suicide note closes without histrionics; contra Mr. Dylan Thomas, going gentle into that good night is precisely what we’re after. One should be pithy, be bright, and under no circumstances include a severed ear. Don’t neglect the abundantly aforementioned joie de vivre, of course. And, mostly, just get it over with.