Choosing to Die Review – aka I don’t like being told I can’t have water.
Gripping stuff last night. I know it must have been gripping because I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind all day really. I’ve always had a bit of a macabre fascination with death when it comes to people knowing they are about to purposefully have their life ended, or knowing their life is about to end. The person who is about to be executed, or the person in an aeroplane (me next week!) which is going down fast. Or in last nights case, the man who gulps down a glass of poison in a room that looks like it has jumped straight from the pages of the Ikea catalogue.
Don’t mistake my levity for for my not taking it seriously, I took it very seriously, and it’s only by making light that I can really process what was actually quite a traumatising piece of television. There we had it, all in one hour – the full frankness of life thrust upon us. And what is the full frankness of life? Death. Each of us will face death, and as seen last night it could well be as a result of some hideous disease.
I suppose what I can’t get over how stoic Peter and his wife were. Right from their first meeting with Terry you would have thought they were discussing whether he should quit his job, or whether they should buy a second home – not the ins and outs and wherefores of him killing himself. Thoughts were flashing through my mind: what must have been going through his mind when he stepped out of his house for the last time to go to the airport? Or even before that, the last time he had a meal at his own dining room table? Or the last time he slept in his own bed? Because he’d have known, with all certainty. When he got up the morning of his flight, he’d have known as he was helped from his bed that that was the absolute last time he would ever lie in it. A bed that he’s probably slept in for years upon years. And then they take off in the plane – the last time he’d ever be on English soil. Was he so stoic then I wonder? Were they so calm all that time, all those lasts?
The events we saw in the Dignitas “house” were so surreal I can hardly believe they happened. The couple are welcomed inside, one of the escorts who works there makes a remark about the snowy weather. Another last right there – the last time he’d ever be outside, breathing the fresh air. The last time his feet would crunch on the snow. Was that crossing his mind? It was certainly crossing mine. Once they were inside it was all smiles and cups of tea in brightly coloured cups. Sitting round a table, checking he definately wanted to do it. Yes, yes, he was quite certain. “Should I take it now, do you think?” he asks his wife (or words to that effect anyway,) talking about it so casually. He decides he should, so the helper woman goes off and prepares the first drink – this one to ready his stomach for the foul tasting poison to follow. Whilst waiting his wife gets some chocolates ready for him from a bowl on the table – he jokingly chastises her for picking the wrong kinds out to begin with, “the blue ones are best.”
I still can’t quite believe what is going to happen – and what I find most unbelievable is the relationship between man and wife – between two people who love each other and have been together for 40 plus years. I suppose they have prepared for this – probably made an agreement that there wouldn’t be any tears or anything overly emotional. Still, I know how much I love Andrew – and if he was getting ready to kill himself, literally in the next few minutes, I can’t imagine that I could just sit there, unwrapping chocolates. I couldn’t sit there at all I suppose. But then what could she do? Cry hysterically? Cling to him like a child? I don’t know. But the way it was it just seemed to calm, to unreal. Forty odd years – shouldn’t there be some words, something to say? Something meaningful? I don’t know.
He takes the first drink, his wife asks him how it was. He says it was okay, the taste wasn’t bad. She remarks that the nurse had said that one wouldn’t be bad, and that the next one would be “the killer.” Realising her choice of words there’s a small smile and a laugh from both of them as they realise the irony of that word. He is then helped onto a sofa (the last place he would sit,) and his wife sits next to him. The helper lady checks one last time, addressing him by his full name (middle names and all,) – almost like she is reading his death warrant to him. I half expected her to ask if he had any last words – she didn’t though of course. He takes the cup from her and without a moment’s hesitation he downs the whole thing, grimacing a little at the taste. He shoves a chocolate in his mouth to cover the taste. The last thing he would ever eat. He says goodbye to the lady who helped him, and to Terry, and, almost turning to the camera he thanks everyone involved – as if he is thanking all of us for watching. He kisses his wife – not over the top, just a couple of little pecks. Again, not really in keeping with what was about to happen. Now, we wait. I can’t help but wonder what was going through his mind. I mean just imagine it, you’ve taken it, you’ve drunk the poison – that’s it. You will die, it’s an abolsute certainty. What was he thinking, sitting on that sofa that was so unfamiliar and so far from home, looking about at the bright, european furniture and the faces of people he doesn’t even know. I mean Terry Pratchett’s in the corner of goodness sakes! What must he have been thinking?
Then comes the disturbing bit. He starts gasping, choking a little and spluttering, and starts sort of twitching in the seat. I hadn’t expected this. He’s like a fish out of water. Terry’s expression is turning sour, the horror of the situation setting in. The helper woman cradles his head and shoulders, whilst the wife just sits and squeezes his upper arm – it feels like this is the wrong way round, that it should be the wife who is holding him. And now comes the worst bit of all, for me anyway. In a spluttery and obviously quite pained voice, he asks for water, reaching out for the glass that sits on the table next to him. It’s almost like he’s changed his mind, or that it’s not what he was hoping for. The helper lady takes his arm before it reaches the table, and pulls him closer to her. “No, no water now.” she whispers to him. For some reason, that’s the worst bit of the whole thing for me. That he wanted water – such a basic human request, a human need – but was told no. Not no in a horrible, evil way – but no in a “sorry, no, it’s too late. You’re dying. You’re about to die and you can’t have water now.” It’s chilling. The kindness of it is chilling. A few moments later he starts what is apparently snoring, although it still sounds like pained laboured breaths to me. Then he dies. The death of a man, right there on the telly. And his last words on this earth were a pained request for the one thing that keeps us most alive.
I don’t think we should ignore the irony of that. That in the very last moments of a man who was determined to die, he asks for the very key to life itself.