7
Love and Death

Celeste Fremon

In his final interview, just months before his suicide,
Bruno Bettelheim explained why he wanted to die

"The problem is finding a reason to live."

The man talking was Bruno Bettelheim, legendary psychoanalyst and child psychologist. He was seated in his favorite chair, a 1960s vintage Danish Modern, in the living room of his fifth-floor Santa Monica condominium. The Pacific Ocean glittered blue and white through the floor-to-ceiling glass doors behind him. He was eighty-six years old, and although his mind was quicker than that of most thirty-year-olds, his body was failing. When he conducted his guest to a chair, his gait was shuffling and labored, his shoulders permanently hunched. As he talked, the movements of his right hand—his writing hand—were jerky, inaccurate and obviously not completely within his conscious control.

Although the calendar read late October, it was one of those flawless, forever‐ summer Southern California days—a disturbing contrast to the conversation at hand: Bruno Bettelheim was talking about whether or not he would kill himself.

For a moment his gaze traveled around the room, which was filled with a lifetime's treasures: Greek and pre-Columbian artifacts from various trips abroad, a wall full of art books and operatic recordings, Rembrandt etchings and, centered over the couch, an eerily beautiful painting of a woman walking down the side of a building, titled "The Dreamer."

"Things I enjoyed are no longer available to me, you know," he said. "I like to walk. I like to hike. Now when I read, I get tired. Dickens wrote: 'It was the best of all times. It was the worst of all times.' It all depends on how you look at it. At my age you can no longer look at it and say, 'It is the best of all times.' At least, I find it impossible."

He paused. "However, if I could be sure that I would not be in pain or be a

____________________
From the Los Angeles Times Magazine, January 27, 1991, pp. 17-21, 35. Copyright 1991, Los Angeles Times. Reprinted by permission.

-76-

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