An athletic body, a bored look on her face, and a gaping hole in the very center of her chest where she shot herself with a handgun. No embalming, service was on a Saturday and the cemetery guys complained about it. I asked if she was Jewish because the family wanted the least expensive casket and it was a Jewish one, and if she were practicing she would need to be buried with her blood-soaked clothes. She wasn’t.

In 2005, this was the only woman I’d seen who shot herself, and so far the only chest-shot suicide I’ve seen as well. I asked her what it was like, the way I ask all suicides. What did it feel like; was it pain or was it terror? Did you find what you were looking for? Did you want someone to stop you? Did you tell anyone about it? Would you do it again if you woke up?

Much of what I have read suggests that the majority of attempted suicides (and most attempts fail) do not go on to attempt again. This surprises me. After waking up and hearing machines and people and seeing an institutional ceiling and not nothingness as it slowly dawns on you that it didn’t work, well, who wants to do this all over again? When not only are your original problems still roaring, but now everyone’s mad at you too? Life all over again, knowing this time that you’re even a failure when it comes to shooting yourself? [Statistically, gun suicide attempts are usually lethal, but 15% of those shooting themselves with a handgun do not die.] I had always imagined most suicides to be meticulously planned rather than impulsive, and what I read suggested that was wrong as well.

I have never been one who desired a fleeting death. Most of us will not get a choice in how we go, but if I could, I’d ask that I know it was happening. I want to feel something. I want to think, in words, Oh, so it’s like this… as I compare it to painful things, or ask myself if it’s as bad as I thought it would be. Will it hurt more than having a baby? Or will it hurt less than a tattoo? Will I spend my last minutes taking stock of my life and wondering if I could have done anything differently, or will I inanely pull up mundane memories that are somewhat anticlimactic and not at all befitting this final act? Perhaps it will be something else entirely; a pain so great it cannot be explained in human language by one who has never experienced it. I’ve read many accounts of people who survived gunshot suicide attempts, including shots to the chest, and they describe a body-wracking, exponentially magnified pain like nothing else. They lose their hearing for days but can still “hear,” to the point of feeling, the literally deafening ring the shot will leave behind; the endless shrieking it seems to bounce off every bone and nerve.

Shooting oneself in the head, it is said, will not be felt if done correctly. You will not hear the gun. You will not feel it. But of course, the only knowledge we have on any suicide method comes from those who failed at it. I wondered if this woman also wanted to feel her life leaving her body. Maybe she was afraid of ending up only paralyzed and not dead from a head shot, so she chose the chest as a means of bleeding to death.

But sometimes it doesn’t work. A shot to the chest may pierce your heart and kill you in minutes, or it may deflect off your sternum. The bullet may tear through your thoracic cavity and lodge in your spine, or it may damage any other structure and not kill you immediately, but cause you to die of a massive infection over the next few weeks. Fifteen percent of the people who recently shot themselves with a handgun are still alive. It doesn’t matter how well you know your gun and your ammo, or how you position yourself. It’s impossible to know how your arm or head or the rest of your body will jerk, and therefore the exact path the bullet will take through your body, when you pull the trigger.

The caliber of the gun matters. The type of ammo matters. There have been shots to the head that did not kill simply because the ammo was too old. But none of this will guarantee death because no one knows what happens the microseconds after the trigger is pulled, or what the bullet will do next.

I recently had the body of another teen gun suicide and the entry wound was so small it’s hard to see how it could be lethal. No exit wound. No striking of the skull; it just got buried in his brain. But he didn’t die quickly. It took about a day. I’ve also seen a case of a teen living for over a day after shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. Sometimes it just doesn’t work very well.

Avoidance of pain seems to be of the utmost importance to those seeking to end their lives. I’ve looked at a pain scale – again, prepared by those who did not succeed in their aims – and a gunshot to the head is supposed to be one of the least painful methods among those who die in seconds as intended. I am not aware of data on just how much it hurts to die from a gunshot over a day or a week (as I have also seen). I have wondered before, if a person is afraid of several minutes of pain, are they not truly ready to die? If there is something in this world that makes you not want to go to the next one, maybe you’re just not ready to go. On a smaller scale, this sometimes works. Someone wants to kill himself but a new TV series looks interesting, so he decides to watch that first. When it’s over, he doesn’t want to die anymore. Something changed to make him suicidal, and in the time it took him to finish the series, it had changed back again. If he truly wanted to die, a TV show would not be a distraction, because no amount of time would have changed you back. I feel that way about pain as well – if you’re ready to die, you will go out by whatever you have available, and you won’t be wondering about how much it will hurt, because it doesn’t matter. You know your life hurt you worse.

One man on these forums had posted that he had tried to hang himself but that the pain forced him to back out. Hanging is actually considered as painful as a gunshot to the chest (I believe the scale was something like 1-100, with 100 being setting oneself on fire). It’s not just like going to sleep; no method is. Someone else responded along the lines of, “What’s a few minutes of pain compared to the amazing sense of peace you’ll get afterward?”

Except…the peace isn’t coming. No one knows what’s coming, but we do know that relief and contentment and relaxation are feelings. You have to be alive to feel them. Relief will not be there for those who died desperately trying to seek it.

I have always believed that people own their lives and bodies and suicide is an intensely personal choice and a right, for any reason, by any means. If a person I knew were suicidal, I would talk to them about it, but not necessarily out of it. I’d ask, first of all, why? Many suicidal people are used to never being asked anything about what got them there, and many others are using suicide as a frustrating way to convey they are not being heard. So hear them. Ask why, ask what help they’ve tried without bringing up yoga and avocados; I promise that’s not why they literally want to shoot themselves in the chest and bleed to death in agony. It’s not the vaccines, the GMO food, or the fluoride. These are people who DO NOT WANT TO CONTINUE THEIR OWN LIVES AND EXPERIENCING THE PLEASURES THAT MOST LIVES INCLUDE and you will alienate them if you talk about how going gluten-free will stop the Suicide Toxins from taking over the Butt Chakra.

But, for those who do not believe this way and consider suicide to be an absolute NO that must be stopped, remember something that does occasionally help people reconsider is the uncertainty of just what the bullet will do. A younger person, a naturally practical person or a controlling one just might pause at this reality.