Death of a Stoic
Freud was very tired now, and it was hard to feed him. But while he suffered greatly and the nights especially were hard, he did not get, and did not want, any sedation. He could still read, and his last book was Balzac's mysterious tale of the magical shrinking skin, La Peau de chagrin. When he had finished the book he told Schur, casually, that this had been the right book for him to read, dealing as it did with shrinking and starvation. It was the shrinking, Anna Freud thought, that seemed to speak particularly to his condition: his time was running out. He spent the last days in his study downstairs, looking out at the garden. Ernest Jones, hastily summoned by Anna Freud, who thought her father was dying, stopped by on September 19. Freud, Jones remembered, was dozing, as he did so much these days, but when Jones called out "Herr Professor, "Freud opened an eye, recognized his visitor, "and waved his hand, then dropped it with a highly expressive gesture that conveyed a wealth of meaning: greetings, farewell, resignation." He then relapsed into his doze.
Jones read Freud's gesture aright. Freud was saluting his old ally for the last time. He had resigned from life. Schur as agonized by his inability to relieve Freud's suffering, but two days after Jones's visit, on September 21, as Schur was sitting by Freud's bedside, Freud took his hand and said to him, "Schur, you remember our 'contract' not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense." Schur indicated that he had not forgotten. Freud gave a sigh of relief, kept his hand for a moment, and said, "I thank you." Then, after a slight hesitation, he added, "Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it's right, then make an end of it." As she had been for years, so at this juncture, Freud's Antigone was first in his thoughts. Anna Freud wanted to postpone the fatal moment, but Schur insisted that to keep Freud going was pointless, and she submitted to the inevitable, as had her father. The time had come; he knew and acted. This was Freud's interpretation of his saying that he had come to England to die in freedom.
Schur was on the point of tears as he witnessed Freud facing death with dignity and without self-pity. He had never seen anyone die like that. On September 21, Schur injected Freud with three centigrams of morphine - the normal dose for sedation was two centigrams - and Freud sank into a peaceful sleep. Schur repeated the injection, when he became restless, and administered a final one the next day, September 22. Freud lapsed into a coma from which he did not awake. He died at three in the morning, September 23, 1939. Nearly four decades earlier, Freud had written to Oskar Pfister wondering what one would do some day, "when thoughts fail or words will not come? "He could not suppress a "tremor before this possibility. That is why, with all the resignation before destiny that suits an honest man, I have one wholly secret entreaty: only no invalidism, no paralysis of one's powers through bodily misery. Let us die in harness, as King Macbeth says." He had seen to it that his secret entreaty would be fulfilled. The old stoic had kept control of his life to the end."
Excerpt from Freud: A Life for Our Time by Peter Gay
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