A TGB READER STORY: A Bad Day – May 2020
Enough With Crazy Politicians

Famous Last Words

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.

Comments

I have a family story about when my grandmother's brother was dying from the 1918 flu. He asked his sister why she couldn't see all of the ones who had come to be with him, those that had already died. I've always thought it'd be a great ending if it was true. But, of course, he was dying and could have been delusional.

It really is the ultimate mystery isn't it?

What people have said can be assumed to be a delusional experience. Lack of oxygen to the brain can cause changes to the brain.

Or, is it an event that cannot be explained in human words? I kind of like that one.

But, why don't we have more comments at the end from those dying?
It is an experience that happens enough. More should be known by now, don't you think?


Of course, if getting hit by a bus is your means to the end, I would be surprised if your last words were not "Oh s**t."

My personal favorite :
Henry James. "So here it is at last, the distinguished thing.."

Let us not forget, on this historic 100 years of women’s suffrage, the dying words of Susan B. Anthem: “with women like these, failure is impossible.”

Oh, Wow, Oh, Wow, Oh WOW! sounds appropriate, a friend's nephew died in his sleep last night, Brad was only 39, so, whatever we accomplish, and those who will remember us, that's really the important thing. (from my experiences, I remember being bedside, and people calling for their mother) I think I like Oh, Wow better.

My dying words might be: save us from auto text. That should have said Susan B. Anthony.

As Victoria asks -- "Why do we not have more comments by those at the very end?" Indeed. So many people have had the experience. As I posted here recently, the number is reported to be about 108 billion people since people have been counted as 'people'. Who knows what the real number is, but it's obviously a great many, and yet we have a relatively small data set of details of those last moments of consciousness. Much of the reason may be due to the fact that many people, perhaps the majority, don't do a lot talking, or a lot of intelligible talking, just before dying.

In the category of interesting things said, the two people to whom I was physically closest at the end of their lives are my in-laws. At the moment they were pronounced dead, both had been either sleeping or in another state of unconsciousness for at least a few hours and said nothing. But in the days just prior to that, both said a fair amount. One thing they each said was interesting and very similar, though they were in very different conditions and two years apart.

My father-in-law was fairly coherent when we last communicated meaningfully. He looked at me and said, "I'm going, only a few are going, four or five are going. Are you going?" He did not have dementia, but he had suffered two falls in which he sustained some head injury, over the previous months. The last was the one that led directly to his death, since the neurosurgery that was performed after the first was not advised. Over the next two days hospice provided care and he required a lot of medication for pain management, but when he asked me his question, he was pretty clear minded.

Two years later his wife was nearing the end of her life, and dementia was rapidly taking its course. Still, she had moments of surprising lucidity, during which had conversation much as we always had. In one of those moments, she looked at me and said, "I'm going. Only so many are going. " It was as if they were both at a train station or some place similar and everything was finally in place for their departure and they knew and accepted it and were letting me know. Within a couple of days, after those separate moments, they each, quietly, peacefully and apparently very comfortably left for whatever their destinations were. I don't think either was delusional at the time they spoke those words, and I have no explanation other than to say that life is full of mystery, and that this may be equally true of death. If it's all mechanistic and there is no meaning, then what's the point of worry or pondering on it any way?

My mother said her fathers last words were "I'm coming mother!" - said as if he could see her and was actually talking to her. He was 78 years old. ???

Reported as Oscar Wilde's last words on his death bed...
"This wallpaper is killing me. One of us has to go.”

Ronnie, I have thought about last words for a long time. You continue to remain sharp and relevant. Do what you must but I will miss you.

Luci

I have read that brain activity goes on for a bit, after we are clinically dead, but I would tend to think it was just the final commands from the brain to the body to shut down and perhaps some endorphin induced pleasantry of our own memories to make the final exit peaceful.

For most of us, I think the most pleasant, induced or otherwise, ending, would be seeing family and other loved ones.

But I wonder what people all alone and never attached much to anyone feel or "see." And people in war torn third world countries, other than relief from a very hard and discouraging life.

Perhaps these visions are relative to many factors.

Churchill died in 1965 so maybe he was just prescient

Stonewall Jackson’s last comment (after being mortally wounded by his own men) was akin to Edison: something like “let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of those trees”

When a close friend was dying of cancer some years ago, I remember the nurse saying, "Don't be surprised if she talks to others in the room. Often at the end loved ones appear and this is a common occurrence." I believe that it is not the brain's shutting down, but the soul's opening up. And that gives me comfort for my final days..... and yours, Ronnie.

When my brother was dying of brain cancer, he would go in and out of consciousness, and when he would wake up, he would always say, "Wow!"

The hospice nurse told us that he was spending more and more time "on the other side".

I don't believe in heaven or hell, so don't know what "the other side" could be, but we'll all get there eventually and find out.

When my brother died, my husband (an artist) painted WOW on a sign and we had it at his memorial.

I used to say my last earthly moment should be shared with my husband on Santorini, with great wine and my favorite three Pat Metheny albums.
Now that I'm quite a bit older I pray my husband outlives me.
I've given up on the idea of making it all the way to Santorini, and will settle for sunset on our beach with a tequila and those same albums. Make it what you want it to be. You're so lucky to live where you live and have control.
Wouldn't a tee shirt with *WoW* painted on the front be a fitting garment!

Years ago in my early 20s I worked the midnight shift at a nursing home. I was taking care of a very sweet lady who pressed her call light button in the wee hours of the morning. I went in and asked what I could do for her. She sat up, looked at me, and said simply, “I’ll need my shoes”, then laid back down. Those were the last words she said as far as I know, as she passed away rather unexpectedly before the sun came up.

The last words I heard my dad say as he sat in his chair with his eyes closed, his voice mostly a whisper, were these: “I think I’m going to go now.” Which is indeed what he did the following morning.

My favorite is (supposedly, there’s dispute) that of a Union general, whose name escapes me, during the American Civil War to a worried aide: “Don’t worry, they couldn’t hit an elephant at that dist…”

I have read in many account that Timothy Leary's last words were "Why not?"

My Mom died in February at 96 and for days before she died she went on and on about how beautiful "it" was - she said "he has the most beautiful face" and we should believe because it was all true - she was in a semi-coma but would smile and was the happiest we had seen her in years.. I hope I see what she saw before leaving - she renewed my faith.

When my mother was in the process of dying, she would go in and out of consciousness. At one point she woke up and stared down past the length of the bed and asked me, “Who are those people?” I said, “What people?” Mom said, “Those people, standing there at the end of the bed.” (There was no one standing there.) I said, “I don’t know... Are they nice people?” Mom answered, “Oh, yes—very nice people.” Then she drifted off to sleep again. During this whole exchange, mom sounded very lucid and adamant, never taking her eyes off the “people” at the end of her bed. I like to think they were angel spirits of some sort, ready to welcome her to the other side, and to reassure her that she would not be alone.

Fellow blogger, John Grey at Going Gently, wrote about this today.

I want my last word to be, "YAY!"

My favorite last words are those of the German boxer Max Baer:

"Oh God, here I go!"

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