Tim had been sick with AIDS for a while. He and I had agreed that, when things got too difficult for him, he would end his life. It got to the point where Tim was oozing liquids from almost every possible orifice. He was extremely frail. Blood, mucus, sweat, and saliva saturated him. And, of course, the pain.
Initially, Tim told me that he wanted to end it all by jumping out of a window. I convinced him that the result would be too messy, that it would be better if he ended his life together in the privacy of our home.
One night, Tim told me that he wanted to go. It’s strange the mundane memories we associate with unbearable moments in our lives. I remember putting together a cart for our Manhattan apartment — something totally unrelated to Tim’s condition – when Tim gave me the news.
That evening, we looked at pictures of beautiful architecture, listened to music, and talked about fine literature. Finally, Tim said, “I’m tired. I want to go.” Having consulted a book on how to painlessly end a human life, Tim drank a concoction with pain pills dissolved in it and slipped into a coma. I placed a sturdy plastic bag (the kind used for cooking turkeys) over Tim’s head and sealed the bag around his neck so that oxygen deprivation would hasten the process. The last thing we wanted was for Tim’s body to recover with a severely damaged brain, caught between life and death, condemning Tim to a useless lingering limbo that could possibly stretch on for months.
Tim’s breathing became slower and slower as the oxygen ran out and the pain pills did their work. The whole process from consciousness to death lasted maybe 18 minutes. Exhausted, I slept with Tim one last time. I knew the next day would not be easy. The next morning, I called the police and reported a suicide. Initially, I regretted not reporting Tim’s passing away as death by natural causes because a suicide at home would demand a police investigation. I hated the idea of Tim’s body having to undergo the indignities of an autopsy. Tim was so emaciated, nobody would have questioned me if I had said that Tim had died a natural death. I watched Tim placed in a black body bag and was overwhelmed with grief.
The coroner took me aside as we were going through the formalities. “Just between you and me, was this an assisted suicide?” she asked. I denied it. Tim took his own life, I said. There was no further trouble from the authorities. A fastidious person in life, Tim was thoroughly prepared for his death. He had written 3 suicide notes. His birth-family didn’t raise any objections.
Later on, I spoke with an AIDS activist about my misgivings for calling Tim’s death a suicide rather than death by natural causes. She assured me that I had done the right thing. Let it be officially recorded that AIDS had forced another human being to take his own life, she said.