Flash Fiction: Suicide Is Painless – in response to those who deny us an end-of-life choice

April 27, 2013

Suicide-is-painlessSuicide is Painless

To be, or not to be. It’s a simple enough choice so quit waffling. Pick a side and get on with it because either way, you’re screwed.

Funny how everything seemed just that easy, that black and white when the diagnosis was first made and later confirmed by every specialist I could find. Including the one in Buffalo who charged me over a thousand dollars to tell me exactly the same thing the ones up here had told me for free. My future is not rosy. Best to update the will, pre-arrange the funeral – always a thoughtful thing to do – and above all, tell no one what I’m really planning.

Two years have passed since then. The loss of motor function is evident and startling and the side effects of the medications that control it are almost worse. The time to go has come. The loose ends are tied up, the note is in the envelope and suicide is painless, after all.

But sitting here with my assembled methods of departure spread on the table before me, I can’t help wondering if that’s true. The poet wasn’t writing from experience, after all, merely positing an opinion. Did he ever imagine someone like me? An old guy with trembling hands and a pounding heart, hearing that song in his head while he tries to decide between painkillers, a noose, or a car in a closed garage. Hoping to God that the poet is right and his own choice wise, because he won’t get a second chance.

Screw this up and the good people in my life will lock me down hard and fast. Out of love, they’ll say. And respect for life, they’ll cry, parroting the advocates for people with physical disabilities. Well-meaning souls who lobby hard against assisted suicide because people like me scare the crap out of them. As though allowing me a choice will mean an end to theirs. Raising the spectre of Nazi death squads, sounding the alarm against a future filled with Clinics For Those Who Are Better Off Dead and needles to dispose of them quickly and quietly. What utter nonsense. My choice won’t affect a damn thing in their own lives, but their tactics are effective because people tend to see the issue in black and white. Just as I did a few short years ago.

But after researching the facts, I now know that nothing is as simple as it seems and the choices before me seem anything but painless. For example, the painkillers that should allow me to fall asleep never to rise again, might actually make me throw up enough of them to keep me alive, but only after irreparable nerve damage has already been done. Which is why the noose fashioned from a green extension cord seemed like a good alternative.

But the noose must be correctly positioned and the jump done from a proper height, something I’m not convinced I can manage on my own. Which means I might end up dangling from the chandelier in the foyer for hours, very much alive but severely brain damaged from lack of oxygen, bringing me to door number three – the car.

A rusting PT Cruiser in a closed garage should do the trick. Unless I chicken out before falling fully asleep. Turn off the car and end up sitting behind the wheel, still breathing but with irreparable brain and nerve damage.

Do you see my dilemma? So much easier to get on a plane bound for Sweden, but how would I explain the credit card charge to my wife of forty years, who is busily planning expensive modifications to the house. Prepared to use the money that should be taking us to see our grandkids in Calgary every summer for ramps and stair lifts and special tubs instead. Doing everything she can to accommodate the future that inevitably lies before us. Unless this goes well today, of course. Once my sorry butt is out of the way, she can have a life again. And that my friend, is what real love is all about.

The time is now 10:00 a.m. My wife will be line dancing until 11:00. That class is the only thing she agreed to hold onto, the one thing my illness hasn’t stolen from her. Takes her half-an-hour to get there, and half-an-hour to get back, so the time is now.

Deciding a combination of pills and car will guarantee success, I down four of the little beauties and head to the garage. The door is closed and the gas tank full. A vacuum hose would speed up the process, but the less cleanup the better. Unlike the extension cord scenario, cleanup here will be fast and easy. Just tow the clunker out of the garage, and you’re done. No muss, no fuss, no lingering stains. And the note should take care of any guilt my wife might feel.

The pills are already starting to work. I’m feeling warm and fuzzy. No pain at all.

Get myself into the garage. Settle into the driver’s seat. Pause a moment to catch my breath, listen to other car doors opening and closing outside. Neighbours coming and going, unaware of my intentions. Eyes are heavy, hard to keep them open. Just need the key in the ignition and I am good to go.

Fish around in my shirt pockets. First one side, then the other. Takes a while to get my stubborn fingers to co-operate. Longer for my brain to realize the key isn’t there. Where’s the goddamn key? Still on the table.

A picture of it right there between the extension cord and the note fills my head. My hand falls to my side. Can’t lift them up. Eyes closing. Tears burning. Stupid old fool.

The door beside me opens. A voice, my wife, whispers, “I understand.”

Her lips are warm against my cheek. The car starts and I hear that song again, as soft and reassuring as her fading footsteps. This, my friend, is love. And I hope to God she’s already figured out an alibi.

10 thoughts on “Flash Fiction: Suicide Is Painless – in response to those who deny us an end-of-life choice

  1. I work in healthcare. I type reports, everyday, all day long. A lot of the reports I type have to do with the burning question, “what shall we do about mother?” Because mother is in a coma. Mother didn’t assign a Power Of Attorney, mother didn’t name a substitute decision maker, mother didn’t think this time would come. The children gather around her bed and discuss the problem, “what shall we do about mother?” Regardless of the doctor’s prognosis that her remaining time is measured in days, possibly a couple of weeks, each has an opinion. Mother didn’t want this. Mother never talked about it. Mother never made the decision. “What shall we do about mother?” The question only leads to more questions. To CPR or not to CPR. DNR? Comfort measures only? Palliative Care? Can we take her home? Is there hope? They discuss, they disagree, they agree to disagree. Mother is slipping away. They make a decision. During the night she rallies. They start the process over again. Days pass. The hospital needs the ICU bed. No one wants to sign the papers to transfer her to Palliative Care. No one wants the responsibility, the blame. No one wants to make the chioce. Because mother didn’t make the choice when she had the chance. The only constant is that she IS going to die, but not on her terms. She lies in a coma, fading away while those she loves argue and agonize. Death ultimately makes the final choice, but getting there has been slow and painful. The children will wrestle with blame and guilt the rest of their lives. Why did we wait? Did she suffer because of our selfishness to have her cling to life? Why couldn’t we just let her go? Mother is gone now. No more need to worry, or make decisions. It’s over. It’s behind them.
    Then a couple of years later, another phone call, another gathering, another question, “what shall we do about father?”
    I have already made my choice. I paid a lawyer $260.00 to make sure my wishes are carried out. My contact info is in my wallet next to my organ doner card. Twice in my lifetime I’ve had to answer the big question because nobody else would step up to the plate. It doesn’t haunt me because if they could have ended the pain sooner, they would have. I know because they told me.
    Because of all this, I have already ansered the question, “what shall I do about me?”
    You brought it home, Lynda. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Kelly. I wrote the story in response to the naysayers after Susan Griffiths was forced to travel to Sweden for a quick, painless death. I feel strongly about the issue, as strongly as I do about the tragedy of teenage suicide due to cyber-bullying, rabid parental expectation, mental illness or anything else that makes a young person decide to end their lives. They are very different issues, both of which leave us with a lot to think about.

  2. I have it all covered for me. I made a power of attorney last year but didn’t tell my kids where I hid it, just in case they don’t really love me. I also squirreled away a bottle of oxycontin from my hip replacement a few years back. And now, thanks to your story, I realize that the rusty PT Cruiser in my garage is another asset. So yes, I’m ready, but NOT Really!

    1. Can anyone ever truly be ready? Probably not, and I hope I never have to make the choice. Better to go suddenly while making love or pasta or both. But if it doesn’t turn out that way for me, then I’d rather have the right to choose my own time and place. And how dare anyone think they have the right to deny me that decision! Cheers.

  3. Loved reading this – thanks for writing it. “As though allowing me a choice will mean an end to theirs” really drives it home regarding end-of-life issues (and other social hot topics as well). Everyone need to read this story.

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