Suicide is Not Painless

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1

A friend, a person I worked with at the East Providence Police Department for many years, died by his own hand the other day.

It had been several years since I spoke with him with any regularity, but on the occasions when I ran into him, he seemed much like he had been when we were on the job.

That’s the difference between most people who have jobs and cops—at least the good ones. Cops don’t have jobs, they become the job. They don’t work for the Police Department, they are “on the job.”

No photo description available.

It is a calling even more than a career. My friend was one of those truly dedicated cops called to the job, and he made a great deal of difference while he was there.

When the time came to retire, knowing how much he’d miss the job, he struggled with the decision but ultimately moved on to a new career. It seemed, to all of us, his life was as good as any other in this world. Not perfect—no life is—but nevertheless worth living.

Whether it was the demons he carried from those years on the job—demons every officer encounters but the good ones just take so strongly to heart—or something else that haunted him, we may never know. Yet since the moment I heard of his passing, the question of why has roiled my imagination.

Why do people commit suicide when, at least to most, it would seem they have no reason to end their life?

Why do those who commit suicide seem oblivious to the trauma and sadness their passing will bring to those who live on?

Why are they unable to picture the wake, the funeral, the sadness their passing will set in motion?

Having been to the scene of many suicides when I was “on the job” the thoughts of what drove people to such permanent extremes always troubled me. Even for those who faced what seemed like hopeless situations, there was always another option.

Just not one they recognized.

Police Officers have the third highest rates of suicide among professionals (behind Medical Doctors and Dentists) but the rate declines after retirement. Why my friend, long separated from the department, took his own life contradicts the research. But research is not life, and something drove him to his decision.

Almost everyone, on hearing the first few notes of the theme from the TV show MASH, would recognize the song, but most have likely never heard or read the lyrics or know the original title, Suicide is Painless. Lyrics by J. Mandel

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please

…The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger watch it grin, but

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please

A brave man once requested me
To answer questions that are key
Is it to be or not to be
And I replied ‘Oh, why ask me?’

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please

‘Cause suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please

And you can do the same thing if you please

Suicide for those of us left behind is never painless. And even though those who may consider suicide see it as a way to solve the pain of their own demons, and have no intention of inflicting pain on others, it is never without pain.

If the thought occurs to you, contact someone. While suicide may seem the answer, it is only because you may not be asking the right question.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish. 
Learn more
800-273-8255