The final words a dying person utters have been noted for centuries – in some cases, a whole lot of centuries.
In 1078 BC, just before he pulled down the pillars killing himself and 3,000 others, Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines.”
The Buddha, in 483 BC said this, they say: "All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness.”
Whether last words seem to be in character or not, in many cases it is impossible to know if the person actually said that or if someone made it up after his/her death.
Which doesn't make last words any less interesting to read. Here is a small handful that feel to me to be in character:
Groucho Marx: “This is no way to live.” (1977)
Sir Winston Churchill: “I’m bored with it all.” (1955)
Emily Dickinson: “I must go in, for the fog is rising.” (1886)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: "The taste of death is upon my lips...I feel something, that is not of this earth." (1791)
One of my favorite last-word stories concerns John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents of the United States. They were both major players in inventing their new country and they each died on the same day which happened to be – drum roll: Independence Day, 4 July 1826.
What could possibly be more fitting for either of them.
Jefferson died in his home in Virginia. History remembers his last words as: "Is it the Fourth? I resign my spirit to God, my daughter, and my country."
Adams, at home in Massachusetts, is said to have spoken these last words: "Thomas Jefferson survives."
What Adams did not know is that Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.
I also like last words that comment on dying itself or appear to speak to us from the other side.
Albert Einstein when he declined surgery the day before he died: "I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly." (1955)
(Those probably were not Einstein's absolute final words, but let's go with it anyway.)
Cotton Mather: "Is this dying? Is this all? Is this what I feared when I prayed against a hard death? Oh, I can bear this. I can bear this." (1728)
Thomas Edison: "It's very beautiful over there." (1931)
All this dying last words stuff came to mind when TGB reader Salinda Dahl left this comment on Monday's post:
”I hope when your time comes it's beautiful and thrilling...which I believe is at least 50% possible. Remember Steve Jobs? As he was dying, he kept saying, 'Wow! Oh Wow!'
Yes! Oh yes! That had slipped my mind. I did some checking around the web to see if those last words are confirmed and came across them in his sister's eulogy for him:
”Steve’s final words,” wrote Mona Simpson, “hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.
“Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.
“Steve’s final words were:
“OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.”
Of course, we don't know what he was experiencing that was wow-inspiring. But wouldn't it be a fine ending if one's last earthly moment is something of beauty and joy.