Most of us do not know what it is like to be at the dying’s bedside. Our ideas about what happens there tend to be based on what we get from the media. As a result, we often have an unrealistic view of what happens at the end of life. For example, in movies and on television, the person dying often makes profound statements about life and love. However, in real life, not everyone is able to speak at the end. Some are unconscious, while some are in too much pain or are incoherent. For those who can speak, their final words are often viewed as a result of their medication or delirium.
Over the millennia, people have always had an interest in the last utterances of the dying. The value and importance of these words are reflected in the law that admits dying declarations into hearsay evidence in criminal trials. Dying words are also of interest to us as perhaps a glimpse into the afterlife. We may be listening for words of forgiveness, a final piece of wisdom and advice, or in hopes of discovering a long-lost treasure.
There are no guidelines for final words, with the exception of Jews and Muslims. Jews are to say the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One. Blessed be His Holy Name whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever.” Muslims are to say, “There is no God but Allah.” When there are no guidelines, we are left to our own devices. I have found that most people will call out to God or the names of family members. However, final words can also be profound or irreverent, touching or angry, inspiring or humorous. The following are examples of final words from some well-known names.
Humorous Last Words
Charles Gussman, television scriptwriter: “And now a word from our sponsor.”
Groucho Marx, entertainer: “Die my dear? Why that is the last thing I’d do.”
George Edward Kelly, playwright, director, actor: “My dear, before you kiss me goodbye; fix your hair. It is a mess.”
Leonard Chico Marx, entertainer: “Remember honey; don’t forget what I told you. Put in my coffin a deck of cards, a mashie niblick, and a blonde.”
Entertainers' Last Words
George Harrison, singer: “Love one another.”
Joan Crawford, movie actress: “Damn it. Don’t you dare ask God to help me.”
Ingrid Bergman, actress: “Do I look all right? Give me my brush and make-up.”
Amy Winehouse, singer: “I don’t want to die.”
Isadore Duncan, dancer, choreographer: “Farewell my friends. I go to glory.”
Last Words of Atheists
Joseph Coveney, American Atheist: “I die as I live. I disbelieve in God, the bible, and the Christian religion.”
Karel Soucek, Canadian stuntman: “There is no Heaven or Hell; there is no God. It is all a myth. You’re born, you live, one day you die and that is it.”
Christopher Hitchens, British-American author: “If I convert, it is because it is better that a believer dies than an atheist does.”
Last Words Suggestive of a God and an Afterlife
Thomas Alva Edison, inventor: “It is very beautiful over there.”
William Allingham, Irish poet: “I see such things as you cannot imagine.”
Jean Baptiste Camille, French artist. “Look how beautiful it is! I have never seen such admirable landscapes.”
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Inc.: “Oh wow, Oh wow!”
Thomas Cramer, Archbishop of Canterbury: “I see heaven open and Jesus at the right hand of God.”
Last Words of Psychology’s Forefathers
Sigmund Freud, psychiatrist: “Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense anymore.”
Carl Jung, psychiatrist: “Let’s have a really good red wine tonight.”
R.D. Laing, psychiatrist: “No bloody doctors.”
William James, psychologist: “These then are my last words to you. Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.”
Final Words of Historical Figures
Louie XlV, King of France: “Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?”
Karl Marx, Social philosopher, revolutionary: “Go on get out. Last words are for fools who have not said enough.”
Perhaps the best advice for all of us as we prepare to die is not to wait until the end to say what is important to us and for others. Dr. Ira Byock states that there are four things we should say to others not only as we are dying but throughout our lives: "Please forgive me," "I forgive you," "Thank you," and "I love you."
Brahms, William B. Last Words of Notable People: Haddonfield, New Jersey, Reference Desk Press, Inc., 2012.
Byock, Ira. The Four Things that Matter Most. A Book about Living. New York, New York, Atria Books. 2014.