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Fisher, D.J. (1992). The Suicide of a Survivor Some Intimate Perceptions of Bettelheim's Suicide. Psychoanal. Rev., 79(4):591-602.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Review, 79(4):591-602

The Suicide of a Survivor Some Intimate Perceptions of Bettelheim's Suicide

David James Fisher, Ph.D.

In his final months of life, Bruno Bettelheim was a frail, ailing figure with a corpse-like appearance. To gaze at him was to see a devitalized and exhausted human being. He lived out his last years burdened by a variety of physical and psychological illnesses. Before arriving in Southern California, he had suffered from a mild stroke. He complained of residues from the stroke: including frustration about physical activity, a feeling that his body was betraying him; he walked with a slight limp and needed a cane for assistance; he was no longer able to exercise by walking long distances; and he experienced extreme discomfort, even slight disorientation, at getting into and out of a chair. The stroke had also impaired his handwriting and his capacity to type, severely inhibiting the composition of his books and articles (Fisher, 1991d). Like many stroke victims, Bettelheim's emotional state oscillated between depression and anguish, mood swings partly resulting from the necessity to curtail his activities.

My relationship with Bettelheim began with an espistelary exchange. I had published a review essay of his 1982 essay Freud and Man's Soul (Fisher, 1983). I took the risk of sending it to him in Northern California. Not surprised by the courteousness and intelligence of his reply, its immediacy was striking. The rapidity of his answer indicated that he cared deeply about intellectual dialogue. He encouraged me to deepen my researches into Freud's use of language. Writing as a senior scholar to a junior one, he generously offered me some further bibliographical citations. As a letter writer, Bettelheim was opinionated, charming, self-referential, and wasted no words. When I subsequently learned of his move to Southern California, I wrote again, asking if he wished to have a visitor.

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