The silence of night never lasts long. It ends somewhere in the 5 o'clock hour with the purring of the heater and distant strains of Sam Cooke.

Edwin Shneidman looks at the clock -- an hour and a half since turning off the TV and closing his eyes.

"Mrs. Wiggles," he shouts. He knows that that's not her name, but he likes the joke.

Sitting in another room, Pauline Dupuy turns down the CD player and puts her Bible and crossword aside. She stands and walks down the hall into his room.

"My knee hurts."

"Would you like a pain pill?"

"Yes."

"Tramadol or Vicodin?"

"I don't care."

He lies on the side of the bed, sleepy, unshaven, his hair mussed. He never asked to live to be 90, to see the breadth of his life diminished, the allure of the world fallen further out of reach. He is ready to die.

All his life he has studied this moment -- from those who killed themselves and those who tried, from philosophers and colleagues, students and intimates -- and its lessons hold no real surprise.

Today will be the same as yesterday, the same as tomorrow, every day a waiting and a hoping for a good death, a death without suffering.

He lives alone but for the company of caregivers in the house that he and his wife bought more than 50 years ago, alone to consider the meaning of his life and the niche he has secured for himself in the memory of the world.

"Good morning."

He looks up. Vernette Elijio greets him with a smile and rubs the top of his head. It's 7 a.m., the changing of the guard. She will be with him for the next 12 hours. Dressed in a long white sleep shirt, he looks like a character from Dickens. She helps him on with his plaid robe, and he shuffles to the chair at the side of the bed.

His four boys call often. They love him, but they live out of state. Of course, he excuses them. If they lived closer, he knows he would take advantage of them.

Vernette fits the blood pressure cuff over his left arm. The room vibrates with the noise of the pump and then, silence, broken by the steady beep tracking his pulse.

He is not afraid of death. He has studied it all his life: 1955-66, co-founder and co-director of the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center; 1966-69, chief of the National Institutes of Mental Health's Center for Studies of Suicide Prevention; 1970-88, professor of thanatology at UCLA.

"133 over 90," she says. "It's a little high."