Waiting for Death

Waiting for Death

Edwin Shneidman, a 90-year-old pioneer in suicide prevention, contemplates his own demise. (LAT)

The issue of suicide was largely ignored until Edwin Shneidman began researching it in the 1950s. A prolific writer and pioneer in the field of suicide prevention, Shneidman made the study of death his life’s work. Now 90, and living alone with the help of caretakers, he maintains his sharp wit, but sadly compares his body to a crumbling statue in his back yard.

Dressed in a coat and tie — but with pajama bottoms — Shneidman opines unsentimentally on the finality of dying. “I’ll be dead, get it through your thick head,” he rhymes, cryptically in this L.A. Times audio slideshow. The images by photojournalist Liz O. Baylen catalog the belongings of old age – surfaces covered with old photos and books, tattered encyclopedias, a cane in the corner, a walker abandoned in the grass. Shneidman’s tidy home has the look of a man maintaining the curtains and knick-knacks of the wife who died before him. His appliances are seen symbolically unplugged.

In a recent medical emergency, Shneidman said he sobbed when he awakened in the ER and realized that he was going to survive. He thought it would have been “the perfect time to die.” Fittingly, the last image is beautiful portrait of Shneidman’s aged face, with the direct gaze of proud man unflinchingly facing the irony of finding himself willing, but unable, to die.

Update: Edwin Shneidman passed away at home three months after this slideshow was made, just after his 91st birthday.

This audio slideshow won third place in the 67th annual Picture of the Year International awards, in the category of Feature Story – Multimedia.

CHANNEL: Los Angeles Times

Length: 2:47

By Liz O. Baylen

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