How to Kill Yourself

By Michael C. Keith

He still loves life

But O O O O how he wishes

The good Lord would take him.

— W.H. Auden

over the years Martin and Ann Purdue discussed the idea of doing themselves in when they got too old or infirm to care for themselves or maintain basic physical proficiencies-like bladder and bowel control. Childless, the last thing they wanted was to become a burden to their few remaining distant relatives or be housebound because of declining health. The thought of getting old weighed heavily on them, and now in their early 70s they realized they needed a plan to avert the despair and humiliation that inevitably lay ahead. Going together made sense because neither of them could imagine life without the other. They had seen what it did to friends when they lost a spouse, and that definitely was not the road they wished to travel.

“Who wants to live like that?” observed Ann as they lingered in bed talking about the pitfalls of aging after an uninspired sexual interlude.

“Not me,” replied Martin, sitting up and searching for his underwear among the tangled bed sheets.

“The whole getting old thing is such a bad design. Nature sure could have done better,” declared Ann, staring at the leafless winter tree beyond the bedroom window.

“It stinks,” added her husband, tugging his shorts over his spindly hairless legs. “Why bother? You’ve outlived your value to the world anyway. Nobody is interested in what old people think or have to say. Not really. They pay you lip service, but sure as hell don’t want to hang out with you.”

“I don’t want to live like that,” said Ann, looking at the liver spots on the back of her desiccated hands.

“Maybe it’s time,” suggested Martin. “I can start looking for ways to do it. Should have started looking long ago.”

“Okay,” replied Ann, rising from the bed and wincing from the ever-present pain in her lower back. “But I don’t want us to suffer. No messy exits. I just want to go gently with you.”

“Into that good night, right?  Go to sleep with each other, and just not wake up,” said Martin, rubbing the problem area of his wife’s back.

After breakfast, he fired up his nine-year-old Epson PC and searched “How to kill your self.” He was impressed by the number of hits he got and surprised at the humorous and satirical nature of many. While the subject was no laughing matter to him, he could not help but be somewhat amused when one site featured the theme song “Suicide is Painless” from the TV show M*A*S*H. He fervently hoped it would be.

Another site blithely suggested one half dozen methods for ending one’s existence:

1.      Blow yourself up with a homemade bomb.

2.      Drown in your own urine while standing on your head.

3.      Gather enough fur from your cat to choke on a hairball.

4.      Play dodge-ball with a live grenade.

5.      Use anthrax to sweeten your coffee.

6.      Clean the toilet bowl of a public restroom with your tongue.

Yet another recommended over 100 ways to kill yourself. Among those that tickled Martin’s funny bone the most recommended eating a tubful of beans, head butting the sidewalk, watching the Lifetime Channel for one week, angering a cannibal, swallowing vanilla bath beads, accompanying a friend on a flight in his homemade plane, and using Draino to prep for a colonoscopy.

Clearly there were a lot of people having fun at the expense of those seriously searching for ways to end their life sans unpleasantness, thought Martin, as he continued to scroll down the results of his search. To his relief, not all of the sites made a joke of the subject, but most of those earnest about assisting the suicide candidate first advised counseling.

“Many people often feel that life is not worth living, but on reexamination find that it is,” was their common message.

Martin discovered that many sites purporting to provide information about terminating life were more intent on directing people to various religions and deities. One site flashed 1-800-SEEKGOD accompanied by a figure of a hangman’s noose intersected by a large red X. About as subtle as a Mack truck, he thought. Despite this, Martin stuck with it and went pages deep into his search results, finally coming upon what he felt would be the best approach to his question. “Take a hundred pills of any prescription strength barbiturate with a glass of water and you will enjoy everlasting sleep.” So it’s as easy and simple as that, Martin reflected, quitting his computer.

Acting on this advice, he and wife decided to stockpile pills for the inevitable moment when they reached the end of their tolerance for the debilitations of old age. It would require they make visits to their individual doctors claiming the need for sedatives until they accumulated all that was necessary to do the job. This is exactly what they did, and soon they had in excess of 200 bromides prescribed for the acute anxiety attacks they both claimed to be suffering.

“Well, these should do the trick when we’re ready,” observed Martin confidently.

They stored the pharmaceuticals in their separate medicine cabinets for use when they chose to implement their plan, and knowing they had a way to end their compromised existences provided them with renewed gusto for the time that remained.

Over the next two years they traveled extensively and enjoyed relatively good health, but then the boom dropped when each was diagnosed with chronic conditions that substantially restricted their activities. Ann’s was more serious than her husband’s, who was able to maintain a decent level of mobility with weekly physical therapy.

Nonetheless, they concluded the time had arrived to execute their plan, and they set a date. They had not wavered in their resolve to stem the grotesque mutation of their bodies. The plan was to attempt to enjoy the holidays with their cousins and on New Year’s Eve overdose and end the travesty that was late life. When the moment was upon them to act, they did.

Martin emptied the three vials containing his pills onto his bedroom nightstand and Ann did likewise with hers. Next he turned on the CD player containing their favorite piece by Debussy, one they had made passionate love to in better days. Ann removed the cork from a bottle of Moet and filled their glasses. Alcohol could only heighten the effect of the pills, they figured, and why not a champagne toast to commemorate such a momentous occasion? They had lived their lives as best they could, remaining happily married for the better part of a half-century, and they believed that was certainly worth celebrating.

“To you, my dearest,” said Martin raising his glass.

“And to you, sweetie,” Ann replied, and they clinked glasses.

“Shall we?” he asked, pointing to their individual piles of pills.

“It’s as good a time as any,” his wife replied, and they both swallowed several mouthfuls of their medications along with many glasses of the bubbly.

They then settled back on the bed and wrapped their arms around one another, proclaiming their eternal love until a deep sleep overtook them and death followed . . . that is, for Ann. Martin awakened many hours later in a profound fog, his wife’s motionless body next to him. When his head cleared he searched for her pulse, but there was none. She was dead and he was not. How could that possibly be, he wondered, his mind swirling and heart sinking?

The better part of an hour passed before Martin could bring himself to leave his wife’s side. By then he had decided to dispose of any evidence of their suicide pact before contacting the authorities, which he hoped would view her death as natural. He removed the prescription containers but left the empty champagne bottle on his night table. He would tell the police they had toasted the New Year before turning in for the night. He hoped his wife’s consumption of alcohol would be viewed as a possible contributing factor in her death, thus allaying suspicion of an overdose.

And so it was. Ann’s body was removed from the house by ambulance attendants, which appeared to regard her passing as just another old person checking out. The accompanying police behaved similarly, expressing their condolences to Martin, who was appropriately and genuinely aggrieved. Three days later Ann Purdue was buried and Martin was left to contemplate the desolation of life without her. Why she had died when he had not plagued him, and he determined to ascertain the reason for such a cruel twist of fate. He began his investigation with his longtime doctor to check on the medicine he had been prescribed. Lately he had started to suspect it was not what it purported to be, and his inquiry ended when his physician admitted that he had given Martin placebos rather than the real thing.

“You’re one of the most stable people I know, so I figured they’d do the trick. Sorry they haven’t,” he explained, and Martin had his answer.

He did not confront his doctor on the issue because he felt it would just raise questions about his wife’s passing. In fact, he even accepted his doctor’s offer for actual sedatives, figuring he could still give suicide-by-tranquillizers another shot, although he now doubted the efficacy of this method. While it had worked on his wife, he remembered she had been diagnosed with a weak heart and very low blood pressure, which he figured may have enhanced the drug’s potency. He would need to do something more definitive, he concluded, and returned to the Internet for a better solution. Despite all his searching, the most common techniques-hanging, jumping, and shooting-remained the most popular and reliable ways to “off” yourself, as one site called it.

After a couple weeks of reflection, he decided that shooting himself in the head was the surest way to guarantee the result he sought. For his 21st birthday Martin had received a gift that would assist in his new suicide plan. It was his father’s prized souvenir from his WWII days-a German Lugar. Only occasionally would the elder Purdue display it, and then he would do so with much ceremony and the inevitable account of how it came into his possession. Martin had been intrigued by it from the first time he laid eyes on it as a young boy, and so it was quite an auspicious occasion when his father turned it over to him for safekeeping. Although he had never fired it, Martin had kept it fully loaded in his nightstand in case of intruders. It gave him a feeling of security in these troubled times, although it made his wife nervous to have a gun in the house.

“A criminal could turn it on us,” she would warn with a shudder of disapproval.

“He’d have to wrestle it from me first,” responded Martin, and she would remark that knowing that did not make her feel any better.

“Get rid of it,” she would plead, but he never did, and now he was grateful for that as he took the weapon from the drawer, put it to his head, and pulled the trigger.

But nothing happened. Martin pressed the trigger again but the result was the same. In frustration and anger he tossed the pistol across the bedroom and began to weep. As the minutes passed he began to focus on the absurdity of his failed suicide attempts.

“Shit,” he cried out in the empty room and then curled up in a fetal position on the bed he and his dead wife had slept and made love in for most of their adult lives.

While he had not given up on the idea of killing himself, he decided he would try to assuage his despair by attending a grief counseling group meeting held at the local Methodist church. The members of the assemblage ranged in age from 50 to 80 and all had lost a loved one recently. Martin took some comfort in their stories but often found himself more depressed because of them.

It was at the third meeting that he struck up a conversation with a recent widow who sat next to him. In many ways she reminded him of Ann, although she was a good ten years younger. What he found most appealing about her was the warmth and sweetness she exuded, and despite the recent tragedy in her life, she would laugh in a way that lifted his spirits. They soon started seeing each other regularly, and before the year was out, they were married. Each day Martin’s existence seemed to become less burdensome and more pleasurable. During their brief courtship Martin had Googled, “How to live,” and a statement on a website became his mantra. It read: “Death is inevitable, so don’t waste life pursuing it.”

Three joy-filled weeks after their wedding, Martin and his new wife were killed when a sanitation truck ran a red light.


Michael C. Keith is the author of several books and journal articles, as well as short stories, which have appeared in The Greensilk Journal, Danse Macabre, The Fabulist, Boston Literary Magazine, The Absent Willow Review, and Bartleby Snopes.  He teaches Communication at Boston College.

2 Responses to “How to Kill Yourself”

  1. lapia says:

    I’d like to say that I liked this story but I didn’t. I actually think it distasteful.

  2. keithm says:

    It was meant to be distasteful–designed to be exactly that. Not everything is pretty.