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wundayatta's avatar

Cliff, bridge, or building: does it matter where you die?

Asked by wundayatta (58638points) June 1st, 2012

Sigh. I’m sorry about the provocative nature of this question. I both regret that and seek it. I regret it, because I am really seeking to understand how people might think about where they would choose to commit suicide—what the symbolism might mean. I don’t want people to think this is a cry for help. I’m fine.

But I do think that a dramatic question is kind of shocking and I hope it will get people to think about this weird idea seriously. On the one hand, if you want to die, what does it matter where you die? On the other hand… people do seek out certain destinations around the world to jump from. Why? Why does it matter that your last view be something special? What does that mean about the psychology of a person who is jumping?

Having been in a place where I did want to die, I have lost my fear of this topic. I think it is important to talk about it because I believe that helps people who are thinking about it. I think it is important to demystify this topic. People think about it and I believe we think about it not because we want to die, but because we are in pain and can’t see an end to the pain.

I now know the pain can end without dying. It was a struggle, of course, and I feel a great deal of empathy now for anyone who is in that kind of pain. My question is to help people who feel this pain understand more, and perhaps to give some hope through greater understanding. So please try to give me some in-depth analysis because there is something very interesting going on here, I believe.

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35 Answers

thorninmud's avatar

People live their lives as if they’re writing a story. Many of the decisions we make are made on the basis of how well they fit into the story we’re trying to write. For much of our lives, though, we don’t feel we have exclusive authorship of the story; circumstances and others are constantly introducing unsolicited plot twists.

But the choice to end one’s own life can be seen as an opportunity to write the ending of the story entirely in one’s own voice. The time and setting then become an important part of the narrative.

gailcalled's avatar

My father, seriously ill with Parkinson’s, chose to have his brother smuggle him a gun and ammo.

He chose also to wait until my mother was out and then walk onto the gravel driveway, put his cane and glasses on the retaining wall and shoot himself in the ear.

The neighbors called the police because they thought he was a dog.

Yes, it certainly mattered to me where and how he chose to die.

He did share the conceptual part of his plan with my mother, and she typically chose to allude to it to me, my sister and brother. None of us really believed he would actually do it.

Looking back, I can understand his need to control his last minute; my rage is due to his never having said good-bye (even in the subtlest way) or shared a second of his feelings about all this.

My mother’s brother’s wife (dealing with chronic severe pain) chose to take pills; she and her adult son then spent two weeks together discussing this, reminiscing, sharing memories, laughter and tears. When her son (my cousin Peter) left to go home, he was comfortable with his mother’s choice.

wundayatta's avatar

@thorninmud Do you have any ideas about what the choices about time and setting for death mean in the narrative? This list of top ten suicide spots is one of many such lists that one can find. There must be reasons why people choose these places. Perhaps convenience and ease of access is part of it. But I wonder if various means of suicide also appeal for aesthetic or other practical or dramatic reasons. If so, I wonder what those reasons might be.

tranquilsea's avatar

Cliff, building or bridge?

What are the chances that I’m going to land on a person if I jump off a building or bridge? Would it be high enough? Should I subject strangers or family to my death? No.

I’d choose a high bridge late at night or a cliff in the middle of nowhere.

Keep_on_running's avatar

I think it’s whatever the person deems to be most easiest and least painful or quickest.

Coloma's avatar

I hope it never comes to this for me, but, I would choose drugs. Preferably Morphine. Just wrap that big warm opiate blanket over me and drift off into an ocean of bliss.

thorninmud's avatar

I think that people write their life stories with many stylistic variations, and the endings they choose will reflect their style. The story is for an audience; some thought will almost certainly be given to the statement being made to those left behind.

Maybe someone who has suffered from a lack of recognition and feelings of insignificance would choose a very public forum for her demise. That would be good storytelling. Someone who feels that he has been jilted or otherwise undone by a person or institution might write the ending for that specific audience. Some settings carry such cultural significance that ending one’s life there may lend some nobility to the ending and, by extension, to the life that proceeded it.

Cornell has had an awful problem with students throwing themselves into the many gorges that cut through the campus. I’ve spent a fair amount of time on those bridges, wondering about that. People talk about the “attraction of the void”, and there may be something to that. But I can’t help but think that in this large population of bright people, so many of whom must have a sensitivity to the poignancy of a good story, a few must just see this as an irresistible setting for the final scene. The authorities have recently put up ugly steel mesh barricades along the railings, and that does seem to have cut down on the jumps. I suspect, though, that it’s not because of the physical barrier that they pose—it would still be easy enough—but because they ruin the poetry of the thing.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I would want to die at home, surrounded by loved ones. If I chose suicide then it would be because of some intense physical discomfort I couldn’t justify anymore and I’d choose the same setting, hoping at least a few loved ones would support my decision and be with me.

wundayatta's avatar

I have visualized these endings many times. What is it like landing in water vs landing on hard rock? Do I want to go head first? Would that make sure of the end? Would I jump off a bridge so that if I changed my mind at the last second, I could try to enter feet first and perhaps survive?

The Golden Gate Bridge seems iconic—more so than most of the other bridges on the list. Perhaps it is its unique coloring. Height. Or the symbolism of the city it crowns. The Gap near Syndey, Australia doesn’t seem to be very high, and yet for the guy who lives across the street from it, it seems like a full time job talking to would-be suicides. He’s been written up many times in the papers. A smile and offer of a cup of tea seems to be all it takes to get people to change their mission. Perhaps they go there in hopes of being rescued?

When I imagined it, it was mostly from my own office window, which is not at all beautiful. I work in one of the uglier buildings in the world, although it is not as ugly as a Soviet style building. But close. People like my view. I look away from downtown, though. You can see the field where the football team practices. You can see a new housing development.

But this view wasn’t my concern. My concern was that I had the only window in the building that opens, and the idea that it opens wide enough for me to fit through. I don’t know if that is true, and I’m never going to find out. Wouldn’t it be horrible to go out… or try to go out head first, so I land on my head, and get stuck, with my legs sticking up? How ignominious!

Sorry. Thinking about this stuff may seem morbid, but it’s a way of reminding myself that I have not chosen to do this and I won’t choose to do it as long as I am healthy. Perhaps I make fun of myself and play with the idea as a way of getting myself accustomed to the trauma I experienced when I wanted it.

The theme from MASH is called Suicide is Painless (sorry there’s an ad first). I don’t really believe it. I guess that could be about what it’s like after it’s over, but it seems to me that committing suicide is a very painful act, and an act of incredible desperation. So I don’t know where that song title is coming from, unless it’s one of those shocking titles that really isn’t born out when you think about it.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Unless the location is connected with some kind of heartbreak which may have led to the decision, I think there is no serious thought about the place. It is clear desperation and whatever comes easy and is practical serves best at that moment.

OpryLeigh's avatar

A few years ago, when I was in a really bad place, I planned my suicide. The only thing that mattered to me was that, when the time came to put my plan in action, it was successful. My choice of place and method was based on that alone.

thorninmud's avatar

There was a New Yorker article in 2003 about the history of jumpers from the Golden Gate bridge that pointed out the importance of aesthetics in the choice of location:

“There is a fatal grandeur to the place. Like Paul Alarab, who lived and worked in the East Bay, several people have crossed the Bay Bridge to jump from the Golden Gate; there is no record of anyone traversing the Golden Gate to leap from its unlovely sister bridge. Dr. Richard Seiden, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health and the leading researcher on suicide at the bridge, has written that studies reveal “a commonly held attitude that romanticizes suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge in such terms as aesthetically pleasing and beautiful, while regarding a Bay Bridge suicide as tacky.”

shadow9's avatar

Maybe you choose the place which will make you the most content ,lakeside or oceanside,trying to convince yourself that you may be doing the wrong thing.hmmmm I cant find that place.hmmm

ucme's avatar

I’d go for death by suffocation caused by muff diving without a snorkel…..what a way to go!

CWOTUS's avatar

Not that I’ve ever given serious thought to pulling it off, I know exactly how I’d do this, and it wouldn’t be painful at all, or messy in the slightest.

I’d use CO2 and a large plastic bag. I don’t want to ever suffocate; that’s a horrible way to die. But asphyxiation by inadequate supply of oxygen isn’t so bad – as long as you can still breathe, even if the respiration is inadequate. You just go to sleep, then you don’t wake up. I had two classmates from my college class who died by accidental asphyxiation in a municipal sewer inspection as young engineers. There wasn’t enough oxygen in the underground piping to support human respiration – and obviously not enough care given to the “confined spaces entry procedure” – so they simply made the entry, worked until they exhausted their oxygen supply, fell asleep and died.

People die in like manner from CO asphyxiation all the time; it’s horrible when it’s accidental, but it is at least peaceful and painless.

wildpotato's avatar

I always remember what Holden says in Catcher in the Rye, about not wanting anyone staring at my body: “What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I felt like jumping out the window. I probably would’ve done it, too, if I’d been sure somebody’d cover me up as soon as I landed. I didn’t want a bunch of stupid rubbernecks looking at me when I was all gory” (104, LB & Co. edition). So yeah, I thnk it matters where you die, mostly because the idea of being a spectacle for jackasses, the ending of my story becoming part of their story they get to take home and tell their jackass families, is intolerable. I’d pick a bridge or more likely a cliff; somewhere where nature is all you can see.

Sorry, I know it’s unfair to assume they’d be jackasses, but I got all caught up in reading Catcher as soon as I pulled it out to grab this quote, and now I’m all angry at the phonies and my writing is crumby.

@wundayatta Hitting the water is said to be like hitting cement. See here.

Coloma's avatar

Alright…this is getting depressing gang, it is now 3:16 in California and it is FRIDAY!
This Modelo is for all of you….may you live long and prosper and drink lots of ice cold beer on summer Fridays! Pffft….nobody dies today! :-D

bewailknot's avatar

I have a fear if heights that manifests in a strange way. I am so sure I am going to fall I figure I should just jump and get it over with. If my intention was suicide I would avoid any kind of high place – I wouldn’t want to end in fear. I would take drugs.

dabbler's avatar

Why are all three choices falling deaths ?
And I notice the mention of the possibility to change your mind in a bridge jump (presuming it’s over water). Are we poking the shores of depression for amusement and edgy thrills ?

Statistically men are more ‘successful’ at suicide attempts, because they work out the steps and mechanics of the method in more detail, and because they tend to have greater access to guns and more experience with them.

Being a woos, I’d forgo the terror of a jump and go for one of the unconscious deaths like carbon-monoxide or freezing or lots of morphine. Falling asleep and not waking up seems a comfortable way to prep for the stark lights of the following bardos.

And @Coloma‘s right, it’s Friday and we can enjoy the quandry more with the appropriate attitude adjusters.

Berserker's avatar

I don’t know if a person wanting to commit suicide always wants some symbolism attributed to it, either for themselves or for those around them. I don’t think they all seek aesthetics or a place of grandeur in which to die. Sure, it can certainly happen, and as such, maybe it’s sort of like a message or something ’‘ceremonial’’, in a way. However I figure that when one contemplates suicide, it’s to end it all, and nothing else. They would pick some method where they’re sure to die, no matter where or how. If it was me, a weight tied to my foot and into the river I’d jump. It’s a painfully revisited idea, but one I’m sure would work, without much chance of survival, and atrocious living conditions to suffer through after that. If I jumped off some crappy, non impressive bridge, I doubt that I’d care if people thought it was tacky or not, as long as it got the job done. :/
There are many different reasons why people choose suicide, and many of these reasons may not pertain to my personal thoughts on the subject with which I’ve answered here. Say someone kills themselves after being divorced, there is much more room for symbolism and a meaningful resting place I’d imagine, than it would for someone killing themselves because their company went bankrupt.

Does it matter where you die? I don’t really get the emphasis on jumping, because the methods are numerous, and the idea in your question about where does it matter or not can pertain to all methods. But either way I guess it really depends. I don’t have a good word for it and I’m not trying to be offensive, but suicide is an issue which is a lot more ’‘versatile’’ when it comes to reasons why, a lot more so than it might initially seem.

wundayatta's avatar

I was reading about places where people commit suicide, so I guess I’m really only thinking about those suicides where people choose to jump. The others don’t have the same kinds of aesthetic considerations. When you kill yourself another way, you think about getting the job done and possibly about not leaving a mess behind. Those are more utilitarian concerns.

But a certain number of people choose to jump, and I think that for them, the suicide is not purely utilitarian. I think that the story involves something additional—some kind of aesthetic concern, or social concern or something that draws them to a more public place for killing themselves. It is a statement of politics in addition to being an answer to an intensely personal problem.

For me, this is not really a depressing idea. If I can think about suicide in an intellectual way, I know I’m in good shape. I’m in a place where I can prepare myself to understand what is happening and how to stop it, should I ever be truly desiring to do this again. Given that it has happened in two different times of my life (my early twenties and early fifties), I think it would be wise to prepare myself should it happen again. I don’t want to die. I’m not going to die by my own hand if I can help it.

But I know that if I ever did want to die, jumping appeals to me. Why? Why this particular form? Others want it to be painless. I want to fly before I die. I just do. I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s because I don’t think I could ever actually jump. The irrevocable nature of it, even under all that pain, still seems like too much. Like pulling a trigger. It’s hard to imagine truly wanting to die, even though I think I did just a few years ago.

But I have flown countless times in my imagination. Somehow, the view from the Golden Gate Bridge appeals the most. Shit. Maybe I should take up sky diving.

Berserker's avatar

Eeeeh thinking of jumping off something freaks me out. (although so does drowning) I suppose it must be trippy while it’s happening though.
But take Japan for example. The most commonly used methods of suicide in Tokyo are, indeed, jumping off buildings, or jumping in front of trains. But these are utilitarian methods in most cases, at least, from what I read…there’s a lot of buildings and trains there. It just happens to be efficient and convenient. Then again, most big cities do have big buildings and trains. :/ Japan is big on discipline and honor, so maybe they see it differently than us. Example.
If I wanted to die, I know for a fact that I’d want to make sure it worked. Cultural impact probably has a lot with what you’re asking and as I said, the reasons are many…while I don’t really see the relation you’re making when approaching the subject with myself in a hypothetical scenario, I do get the idea of it being meaningful, if I may word it that way. It’s just that to me, personally, I don’t think that would matter much. I know you’re not really asking that but it’s the best I can do. :/

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I’m ruling out buildings. I don’t want to cause any collateral damage to innocent people if they happen to be under me.

Coloma's avatar

Gah! Anything that leaves blood and guts splattered all over is so not kosher! Heartless to those that have to do the clean up. How rude!

wildpotato's avatar

@Coloma Unless vultures or fish are the cleaning crew.

Agreed about humans, though – whenever I hear about someone jumping in front of a train, I think about the poor conductor (as well as the unfortunate suicide, of course).

cookieman's avatar

North-Bound Orange Line MBTA train as it enters the Haymarket station at full speed.

Coloma's avatar

@wildpotato True, nature is the exception, sooo…anyone that wants to commit suicide the efficient and natural way should just slather slather themselves in bacon grease naked and go sit in the woods and wait for the bears and cougars or jump in the ocean with a bucket of chum and wait for the sharks.

Really…why not make your death the benefit of another creature. That would be an altruistic suicide. lol

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I suggest that choosing a time and place to commit suicide should consider how this act will affect those forced to witness the act or deal with (clean up from) its aftermath. That is apart from the issue of the effect on people in your life who will suffer adverse psychological effects because of your decision.

MilkyWay's avatar

If I ever want to die, I’d wait till snow season and then go and freeze to death in a field… You’d go numb in a while and not feel the cold anymore, and then your body will slowly switch off, and go to sleep.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@MilkyWay That’s true. I came close to that once. It quit feeling cold and was kind of warm.

MilkyWay's avatar

^True. It does feel warm.
Don’t go doing that again though.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@MilkyWay Yeah, when you can look at a traffic sign and not be able to read it is pretty bad.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@MilkyWay is on to something there. I suffered hypothermia a few years back after an accident and felt cold for only a little bit and then just started hallucinating.

wildpotato's avatar

@MilkyWay Agreed. I’ve wanted to freeze to death (when I die) ever since I read To Build a Fire. Also, though, I remember reading here on Fluther another jelly’s story about nearly bleeding to death, and how that was a peaceful experience. I’d still be frightened of dying that way, though, I think – there’s something about maintaining bodily integrity that has a deep psychological hold.

rooeytoo's avatar

Nembutal would be my first choice, next would be sitting in the car in the garage with the engine running. I would buy a pack of cigs and a couple of chocolate bars and go happy. I have no desire to die but in case of an illness that I knew was going to do me in eventually and in a very painful, dependent fashion, that is what I would do. I would tell my husband first but probably no one else. If I had an old dog whose time was drawing near, I would take her with me to share the choccy and the cigs if she was so inclined. Oh yeah and the biggest bottle of ice cold cokey cola too!!!

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