“Dr. Death Makes a Comeback” by Paul McHugh. The Wall Street Journal, Opinion Section 1/23/2015.
Life is like an amusement park. For some of us—the lucky ones—we get to stay the whole day and go on all the rides. It is exciting and great fun, but by evening we are tired and have had enough. They are turning out the lights and we find ourselves standing at the gates alone in the dusk, waiting to go home. Many of our friends and loved ones we have shared rides with have already left.
A few months ago, an elderly acquaintance I saw almost every day in the locker room at the community center committed suicide.
He was 85, born in Denmark, and spoke with an accent. I first met him briefly perhaps 30 years ago when he married our company’s librarian. Everyone agreed it was a match made in heaven. Both of their spouses had died. He was tall and athletic, played in the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, and was an expert skier. She was pretty and pleasant, immediately loved by everyone. Many visited the library just for the joy she brought to a difficult day. We envied their happiness.
I was glad to see him again many years later. We did not hang out as friends, but we did have many good conversations as we dressed in front of our lockers. He was alone once more, but he was not lonely and was still active and alert. He went to Costco for hearing aids on my recommendation; I cut back on long, soapy showers on his recommendation. He seemed happy, no bucket list to complete, just peacefully waiting for life to conclude.
His suicide was a complete surprise. He gave no hint of any medical or emotional problems. Why did he do it? I have no idea.
Anyone over 85 with no dependents should be free to end their life for any reason—or for no reason at all. They should not have to justify their decision to anyone, not to a physician, not to a psychiatrist, not to a judge, not to some guy he sees in a locker room. The choice is theirs to make, and theirs alone, unchallenged. How dare anyone claim to know better.
I was told he never wanted to burden anyone. He still had pills he had gotten from his physician years before for just such an eventuality. He expected them to do the job easily and painlessly. On a sunny morning late last summer, he settled down in his backyard lawn chair under clear blue skies, swallowed the pills, closed his eyes and waited.
Nothing happened. The pills were placebos. He got up, went into his house, loaded a gun, and shot himself in the head. . . . BAM!
The tragedy is the way that he had to do it, not that he did do it. Alone, frustrated, and desperate—it should have been so much better. He had enjoyed a full day at the amusement park. Some of the best rides he had ridden twice. He waited by the gates in the darkening evening, but they were locked, and he just wanted to leave.