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Sunday, March 20, 2011


Whether he did it as a deliberate "screw you" or not, I have an irrational anger toward people who commit suicide that way precisely because it does have that effect on engineers. It makes me want to chase them down in the afterlife and shake them-- "What were you thinking? Why did you decide to make your last moment on earth so selfish?"

Some people would reply that it's entirely natural because suicide is inherently selfish, but I don't think it is. Or at least, that it has to be. The illegality of suicide means that all occasions of it have to put at least some level of inconvenience on other people, but there are more and less shitty ways of doing it. This guy definitely chose one of the more shitty ones.

I agree with you Gretchen. Some people who commit suicide do so in ways that cause maximum distress to others. Others commit suicide choosing means intended to minimize the distress to others. And there is everything in between. Even if someone isn't intending to send a "screw you" message, it should be obvious that a completely innocent person will be terribly victimized by this type of suicide.

You are right about the impact on the train crew-- not just the engineer.

I represented a family who were run over by an IC train in the Mississippi Delta (no one was killed). They clearly failed to blow at the whistle board (a car mechanic standing in his garage, 3/4 of the way from the whistle board to the crossing, saw the engine blow as it passed the entrance of his garage). They hit the car, and one of the children was sent 40 feet through the air.

I deposed the crew. Normally, in cases like this, you expect the employees to talk the company line. They didn't, exactly. They didn't really admit to doing anything wrong, but their obvious anguish over hurting the mother and children in this family was tangible, and one way they dealt with that was to testify as truthfully as they could under the circumstances.

For some reason, you don't get this kind of thing in a case involving a wreck with a semi truck, at least in my experience. I'm not saying it doesn't effect a truck driver emotionally, but the direct way it was expressed by the train crew was slightly surprising to me. Spoke very well for the essential humanity of the ethos of the train crew.

And, to return to your post, I have no doubt of the impact it will have on the entire crew in the engine on the train.

Call me cynical or insensitive if you wish but people are selfish at their core. Why is this? Well, even with all deliberate parental effort to instill generosity, children grow up emulating their friends and peers.

Acquisition of material goods exhausts a lot of our energies and the more we have, the more we want. Recognition is just another thing to be coveted and our entertainment media solidify that desire by showing us lifestyles of the rich and vacuous.

So be angry at the public suicide, if it relieves your own feelings of deprivation and the sense that you can never have everything you aspire.

I applaud such last stands and acts of defiance. If they make one's passing more agreeable and our smugness about it uncomfortable, sobeit.

When I have been suicidal, I have considered this method because of the high degree of fatality. It would be horrible to work up the will power to put a gun in your mouth and pull the trigger, only at the last moment to jerk your hand, pull the gun out of your mouth and blow your face off and survive. Passing out on train tracks and being decapitated is a lot less unnerving, if you ask me.
In this case, I don't think this chap was trying to say "screw you" to the community- probably these were the closest tracks he knew of. And i doubt the community will be that affected by it. Anyone who lives in a big city is not surprised or disturbed when they hear about a murder/suicide because it is so common. Sounds to me like the guy just hated being alive and saw this as an accessible escape.

Being a doctor, I see death almost every day. I also lost my brother in a horrible accident 2 years ago. But the experience I had 3 days ago, when in a train station, a young man just 1 meter in front of me ran and dove in front of an intercity entering the train station at high speed, scarred me profoundly. Do you think professional help is needed, or time will heal the wounds as always? Very little information available for witnesses of train suicides and very few friends who can really understand..
Thank you and sorry for my english, it's been years that i no longer use it..

Silvia, I'm sorry to hear that you had these terrible experiences. Every person, every situation is different, so I couldn't say if therapy would be necessary or helpful for you, but it wouldn't hurt to consult with a psychotherapist.

There is no knowing the mind of someone who decides to take his/her own life. It may or may not have been one of our presumed scenarios. Or it could have nothing to do with any of the above. Statements are like speeches: they have meaning for those who deliver them. They may or may not have meaning for those who hear the message.

I am reminded of a poster from the 1960s or 70s. A mouse gives a one-fingered salute to a cat before being mangled and/or eaten (cats rarely eat mice, for those who do not know this.) The caption for the poster was something like this: The last desperate act of defiance.

Ernest Hemingway, we are told, blew his head off with a shotgun (or perhaps it was a rifle.) He did not care to face a decline of body, perhaps, or he was just tired of living. We cannot know. And that is exactly my point.

I came across this site while looking for answers because last week, a friend and neighbor threw herself in front of an elevated subway train. We spoke frequently; she always appeared to be a strong, upbeat woman, and I am left flabbergasted. Many people I know have reacted like some of the posters here, assuming that someone who used this method of suicide was selfish or angry or vengeful. I wouldn't use ANY of those words to describe my friend, and my web surfing bears this out.

Studies of numerous persons who attempted suicide in this way but survived all have the same conclusion: they chose to jump in front of a train because they thought it was guaranteed to succeed - no deeper motive at work. Ironically, 67% of those who attempt suicide this way survive.

I'm not dropping any profound pearls of wisdom here other than this little piece of advice: when someone tells you their friend threw themselves in front of a moving train, screaming that the deceased was bitter, hostile, vengeful, etc., and how dare she traumatize throngs of witnesses DOES NOT HELP! Your job is to be supportive of the living, not pejorative of the dead...


I am sorry for your loss, but you are not making sense. Didn't you read the comment by Silvia? You say it is wrong to question the motives of the dead, help the living. Then you're insulted that the doctor talks about the living who have been traumatized.

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