When they are gone, you will
remember every single opportunity
you had to speak to them. And didnt.
Iain S. Thomas, The Gone
Death isnt when your heart stops.
Death is when you give up who you could be for the safety of who you are.
Iain S. Thomas, The Safety of Death
I will record it, and when the time comes
for me to die, I, or the nurse, will put the
earphones in and I will hear:
You have a name but soon you will not.
You loved everyone you could as much as you could.
You are only doing the most natural thing in the world.
Everything is fine.
Iain S. Thomas, The Light Leaving Machine
I would have to learn to live in a different way, seeing death as an imposing itinerant visitor but knowing that even if Im dying, until I actually die, I am still living. Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
I am standing on the seashore. A ship in the bay lifts her anchor, spreads
her white sails to the mornings breeze, and starts out upon the ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until she
hangs like a speck of white cloud, just where the sea and sky mingle with each
Then someone at my side says: There, shes gone. Gone where? Gone from view, that is all. Just at that moment, there are other eyes watching her coming and other souls taking up the glad shout: There, shes coming.
And that is dying.
quoted in A Book of Remembrances: Diana, Princess of Wales, 1961-1997
When someone you love dies, and youre not expecting it, you dont lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long timethe way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comeswhen theres a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that shes gone, foreverthere comes another day, and another specifically missing part. John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany
Well Marianne its come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that Ive always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I dont need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road. letter written from Leonard Cohen to his muse, Marianne Ihlen, as she lay dying (Note: He did follow soon; he died several months after her.)
There is no question of getting beyond it. The little boat enters the dark fearful gulf and our only cry is to escapeput me on land again. But its useless. Nobody listens. The shadowy figure rows on. One ought to sit still and uncover ones eyes. Katherine Mansfield, reflecting on death in a 1920 letter
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk
to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand
that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing
mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in
the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your
energyevery vibration, every bit of heat, every wave of every particle
that was her beloved childremains with her in this world. You want the
physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you
gave as good as you got.
And at one point youd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And youll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measurethat scientists have measured preciselythe conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable, and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that theyll be comforted to know your energys still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; youre just less orderly. Amen.
Aaron Freeman, Eulogy from a Physicist
When he reached the end, he did not die. He called your name and began to live in you. –Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
... belatedly she understood that this was how a loved one disappeared. Despite the shock of walking into an empty flat, the absence isnt immediate, more a fade from the present tense you shared, a melting into the past, not an erasure but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it. –ditto
There is something miraculous in the way the years wash away your evidence, first you, then your friends and family, then the descendants who remember your face, until you arent even a memory, youre only carbon, no greater than your atoms, and time will divide them as well. –ditto
For years hed lived with the fear of murder, torture, or disappearance, as all men of his age did, and it was the senselessness that truly frightened him; that the monumental finality of death could come as arbitrarily was more terrifying than the eternity to follow. –ditto
When she died, this one need, so near to eternal it could be her soul, would survive her. –ditto
It is true that he couldnt help dying, but I miss him all the same. He was my sixth sense. Now that hes dead I feel like an amputee. I miss something and will always miss it. Marlen Haushofer, The Wall
The permanence of death is unbearable. I cant fix it or make it better. Stephanie Wittels Wachs, The New Normal: Pieces of Grief, posted on medium.com on June 10, 2015
The last word my mother ever said to me was love. She was so sick and
weak and out of her head she couldnt muster the I or the you
but it didnt matter. That puny word has the power to stand on its own.
I wasnt with my mom when she died. No one was. She died alone in a hospital room and for so many years it felt like three quarters of my insides were frozen solid because of that. I ran it over and over it in my mind, the series of events and choices that kept me from being beside my mom in her last hours, but thinking about it didnt do a thing. Thinking about it was a long dive into a bucket of shit that didnt have a bottom.
I would never be with my mother when she died. She would never be alive again. The last thing that happened between us would always be the last thing. There would be the way I bent to kiss her and the way she said, please, no, when I got close because she couldnt any longer bear the physical pain of people touching her. There would be the way that I explained Id return in the morning and the way she just barely nodded in response. There would be the way I got my coat and said I love you and the way she was silent until I was almost out the door and she called, love. And there would be the way that she was still lying in that bed when I returned the next morning, but dead.
My mothers last word to me clanks inside me like an iron bell that someone beats at dinnertime: love, love, love, love, love. Dear Sugar, June 17, 2010
It has been healing to me to accept in a very simple way that my mothers life was 45 years long, that there was nothing beyond that. There was only my expectation that there would bemy mother at 89, my mother at 63, my mother at 46. Those things dont exist. They never did. Dear Sugar, July 1, 2011
There is no greater mystery in life than death. Yet, as the years have gone by, I feel I have begun to understand it a little better, by making it less complex, more simple. The body will stop being alive. We are animals. It is simple and pure, in a way. My darling mother was as important as the sky, but also a little tiny animal on the earth, who was here, then not, as billions have come and gone, through time. When I reduce it down to a simple idea, its easier to accept, that the event of her death is the most monumental thing possible, as well as a tiny thing. ClareLondon, in the comments section of Fay Schopens A Moment That Changed Me Saying Goodbye to My Mother When I was 10, on TheGuardian.com, June 11, 2015
Just ten minutes, but everything was different now. He was different, the world was different. His father was nowhere in it. And with that, tears came to his eyes. Justin Cronin, The Twelve
It will be all right, I promise.
How do you know?
At the far end of the valley, at the edge of the fields, the door to the house had opened.
Because thats what heaven is, said Amy. Its opening the door of a house in twilight and everyone you love is there.
If you gave someone your heart and they died, did they take it with them? Did you spend the rest of forever with a hole inside you that couldnt be filled? Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes
We know death is coming. And yet we always see our loved ones as taken away from us, instead of given to us for whatever time they have. Graham Joyce, The Silent Land
The sorrow of her parting was as terrible as a deep burn, and I had to call on all the courage I had learned from my father not to call her name aloud and bring her back to me forever. Isabel Allende, Walimai
I was not sad now. I had learned that sometimes death is more powerful than love. ditto
Theres a tenacity the dead have on the living that no living person has on you. The dead are truly gone. The only way you have to keep them is to think about them over and over again. Joy Friedberg, in Emily Yoffes Bridge of Sighs, in the January 11, 2003, issue of The Observer
There is a coat on a coat hook in a hall. Work-gloves
in the pockets, pliers and bent nails.
There is a case of Quaker State for the Ford.
Two cans of spray paint in a crisp brown bag.
A mug on a book by the hi-fi.
A disk that starts on its own: Boccherini.
There is a dent in the soap the shape of your thumb.
A swirl in the glass when it fogs.
And a gray hair that twines
through the tines of a little black comb.
There is a watch laid smooth on a wallet.
And pairs of your shoes everywhere.
A phone no one answers. A note that says Friday.
Your voice on the tape talking softly.
Patrick Phillips, In the Museum of Your Last Day
Death, hold out your arms for me
Give me your motherly caress,
Through all this suffering
You have not forgotten me.
You are the bearded iris that bakes its rhizomes
Beside the wall,
Your scent flushes with loveliness,
Sherbet, pure iris
Lovely and intricate.
I am the child who stands by the wall
Not much taller than the iris.
The sun covers me
The day waits for me
In my funny dress.
Death, you heap into my arms
A basket of unripe damsons
Red crisscross straps that button behind me.
I dont know about school,
My knowledge is for papery bud covers
Tall stems and brown
Bees touching here and there, delicately
Before a swerve to the sun.
Death stoops over me
Her long skirts slide,
She knows I am shy.
Even the puffed sleeves on my white blouse
She will pick me up and hold me
So no one can see me,
I will scrub my hair into hers.
There, the iris increases
Note by note
As the wall gives back heat.
Death, theres no need to ask:
A mother will always lift a child
As a rhizome
Must lift up a flower
So you settle me
My arms twining,
Thighs gripping your hips
Where the swell of you is.
As you push back my hair
Which could do with a comb
But never mind
Were nearly there.
Helen Dunmore, Hold Out Your Arms (written days before she died of terminal cancer)
Youre ok. Breathe. Just breathe. Open your eyes. Come back. Its ok. Its over now. Youre ok. Wake up. Please wake up. Dont do this to me. Dont do this to me. Dont do this to me. I love you so fucking much. Come back. Iain S. Thomas, The Missing Exclamation Marks
Forget about your lists and do what you can because thats all you can do. Phone up the people you miss and tell them you love them. Hug those close to you as hard as you can. Because you are always only a drunk drivers stupidity, a nervous shopkeepers mistake, a doctors best attempts, and an old age away from forever. Iain S. Thomas, The Metronome Tree
As you lay dying, we asked if there was anything else you wanted us to include
in the book before we sent it back to you.
Love, at every opportunity you are given to love. Be less afraid. Embrace each day (none are promised). Cry when you need to, itll make you feel better. You were put on this planet to feel every feeling you could, do that. Everything works out in the end. I promise.
Iain S. Thomas, The Last Thing You Said
I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fatethe genetic and neural fateof every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death. Oliver Sacks, My Own Life, in the February 19, 2015, issue of the New York Times
We dont tell each other the truth about dying, as a people. Not real dying. Real dying, regular and mundane dying, is so hard and so ugly that it becomes the worst thing of all: Its grotesque. Its undignified. No one ever told me the truth about it, not once. When it happened to my beloved, I lost my footing in more than one way. The tiled floor of lifemorals, ethics, even lawsbecame a shifting and relative thing. Matthew Teague, The Friend, posted on Esquire.com on May 10, 2015
But I know something
about death now, I know how silent it is, silent, even
when the pain is shrieking and screaming. ...
Hayden Carruth, Crucifixion
Those who are not being dragged to their deaths cannot understand how the heart grows hard and sharp, until it is a nest of rocks with only an empty egg in it. I am barren; nothing will grow from me anymore. I am the dead fish drying in the cold air. I am the dead bird on the shore. I am dry, I am not certain I will bleed when they drag me out to meet the axe. No, I am still warm, my blood still howls in my veins like the wind itself, and it shakes the empty nest and asks where all the birds have gone, where have they gone? Hannah Kent, Burial Rites
Now comes the darkening sky and a cold wind that passes right through you, as though you are not there, it passes through you as though it does not care whether you are alive or dead, for you will be gone and the wind will still be there, licking the grass flat upon the ground, not caring whether the soil is at a freeze or thaw, for it will freeze and thaw again, and soon your bones, now hot with blood and thick-juicy with marrow, will be dry and brittle and flake and freeze and thaw with the weight of the dirt upon you, and the last moisture of your body will be drawn up to the surface by the grass, and the wind will come and knock it down and push you back against the rocks, or it will scrape you up under its nails and take you out to sea in a wild screaming of snow. ditto
In the end, everyone is aware of this:
nobody keeps any of what he has,
and life is only a borrowing of bones.
Pablo Neruda, October Fullness
In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing when you look at the sky of night. –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
There is no death. Only a change of worlds. –Duwamish proverb
To love something you know will die is holy. –Kaddish, AIDS memorial, New York, 1987
Shes at peace, they would say that, people always say things like that, but its an inaccurate statementthoughts are thundering around in my head, grief is choking its way up my throatshes not at peace, shes dead, she was at peace when she was laughing at something clever someone said, she was at peace when she was smoking a cigarette, listening to Sonic Youth. Ben H. Winters, World of Trouble
I sometimes think that death is the one thing we have any feeling for. It is our art form, the only way we can express ourselves. –Paul Auster, In the Country of Last Things
The authors expressed a concern over the sequestration of the dead in the modern world. They cited psychological studies that showed that people who do not have contact with mortality tend to feel depressed, diminished, and less alive, and urged that people be allowed to experience and interact with death in order to bring them closer not just to mortality, but also to vivacity. ... No people who turn their back on death can be alive, they explained. The presence of the dead among the living will be a daily fact in any society that encourages its people to live. Paul Koudounaris, The Empire of Death (discussing Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King, and Shlomo Angels book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction)
When an old person dies, its a library burning down. Amadou Hampâté Bâ, to the UNESCO General Conference in 1960 in Paris
I was burdened with the thought that any of my Facebook friends would be quick to comment Yummy! on a photo of my Niçoise salad, but wouldnt step up to wipe the sweat from my dying brow or the poop off my corpse. Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory
Mythologist Joseph Campbell wisely tells us to scorn the happy ending, for the world as we know it, as we have seen it, yields but one ending: death, disintegration, dismemberment, and the crucifixion of our heart with the passing of the forms that we have loved. ditto
No matter how much technology may become our master, it takes only a human corpse to toss the anchor off that boat and pull us back down to the firm knowledge that we are glorified animals that eat and shit and are doomed to die. We are all just future corpses. ditto
to shut our eyes to corpsesto those around us now and to the particular one that each of us will becomeis to blind ourselves to an integral part of a vibrant existence. Though we frequently ignore death or hide it in the haze of euphemism, we know, in our bones, this stark truth: Just as winter reveals the power of spring, closeness to death discloses our most fertile energies. We are reminded of our brief time on this earth, and feel inspired to make the most of it. Eric G. Wilson, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Cant Look Away
Dont take the things of this world too seriouslyyour riches or your successbecause all will soon rot; care passionately for each instant, for your duration on earth is short and you need to make the most of what time you have. What to ignore and what to value, which experiences are vital and which are not: death can teach us this rare wisdom. ditto
A world catastrophe, or a strangers passing away, or the violent death of a young friend, or a childs horrific endthese can shock me out of complacency. This is what the philosopher Martin Heidegger would conclude. Shivered by the deaths of others, we are forced, he argues, to stare at our own mortality: If it happened to them, it can happen to me. In this moment, I might become authentic, realizing that no one can die my death for me; in my dying, I am an unrepeatable entity, different from everyone else, a period to an existence that I alone carried out. ditto
Respect for the dead comes second to respect for the living, and I believe no mans demise exempts him from culpability. Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So
Were all going to die. Is this really where I want to be? Stacking printer paper in an office supply store? Death is taking another lick of my lollypop, and god knows how many licks it takes before he gets frustrated and just bites into it. Joey Comeau, We All Got It Coming
How could we prepare for her death? How could we get used to the idea before the awful moment when the telephone rings after midnight and another unfamiliar voice full of bureaucratic sympathy informs you that half an hour ago, while you were sleeping, a human soul much loved by you expired ...? Miljenko Jergovic, A Ring
I know that the dead used to celebrate being alive too, and that they just happened to lose a life the way some people lose a pinball at the end of the game, having scored a hundred points a hundred timesyou could have scored more, but...you didnt. Life is only valuable because you know you have it. Death always finds you unprepared, without tangible proof that you ever lived. Perhaps you werent much good to yourself or to others. Isnt that why your wife and children cry at your funeral? Because they have a sense that you foolishly squandered your life, like a chicken that refuses to die even after youve chopped off its head. Miljenko Jergovic, The Gravedigger
When you think about it, the end of the world is a little bit like death: We all know its going to come eventually, and as we get older, we feel we see the signs more and more distinctly. In order to live our lives without screaming all the time from a day-to-day standpoint, we have to pretend its not happening, but we fear constantly that it is, and it is a way to think about the end of our own lives. John Hodgman, in a November 10-16, 2011, interview with the AV Club
its happening now and its really, really true and however much
they all promise to remember me it doesnt even matter if they do or not
because I wont even know about it because Ill be gone Jenny
Downham, Before I Die
Death is a favor to us,
But our scales have lost their balance.
The impermanence of the body
Should give us great clarity.
Deepening the wonder in our senses and eyes
Of this mysterious existence we share
And are surely just traveling through.
Hafiz, Deepening the Wonder
Should I die, survive me with a force so pure
that you awaken fury from the pale, chill world,
in all directions raise your indelible eyes,
day in, day out, sound your mouths guitar.
I dont want your footsteps to vacillate
nor your smile wane, I dont want my bequeathed joy
to die. Dont come knocking at my chest, Im away.
Dwell in my absence as you would in my estate.
Absence is such a vast house
that you will walk through its walls
and hang paintings in the air.
Absence is such a transparent house
that without my own life I will watch you live
and if I see you suffer, my love, I will die again.
Pablo Neruda, XCIV
How many more times do we have to come to terms with death before we find safety? Every time people come at us with the intention of killing us, I close my eyes and wait for death. Even though I am still alive, I feel like each time I accept death, part of me dies. Very soon I will completely die and all that will be left is my empty body walking with you. It will be quieter than I am. Saidu, quoted in Ishmael Beahs A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance. Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
When the time comes to leave, just walk away quietly and dont make any fuss. Banksy, Wall and Piece
but death was sweet, death was gentle, death was kind; death healed the bruised spirit and the broken heart, and gave them rest and forgetfulness; death was mans best friend; when man could endure life no longer, death came and set him free. Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth
There goes one, the only one, the last of his kind, the end of a particular strand of DNA. ... The better the obit, the closer it approaches re-creation. Its an act of reverence, a contemplation of this life that sparked and died, but also an act of defiance, a fist waved at God or the stars. And what else, really, do we have besides the story? Marilyn Johnson, The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries
Death is the fairest thing in the world. No one’s ever gotten out of it. The earth takes everyone—the kind, the cruel, the sinners. Aside from that, there’s no fairness on earth. –Zinaida Yevdokimovna Kovalenko, in Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices From Chernobyl
Each of us enters the world without possessions, and each departs in an equivalent condition of material poverty. The empires we leave behind are obliterated by time as efficiently as it reduced the wonders of Ozymandias to rubble and sand. Yet, if we have lived well, we also leave that legacy which seems ephemeral but which grows forever and which time cannot touch: the compassion with which we treat others, the kindness and love we give. Dean Koontz, Beautiful Death
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. –Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. –Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
Relatively speaking, having sex is so easy. People do it all the time. It’s so pedestrian; fantasies about making love are rarely necessary and usually contrived. However, dying is always original. It’s always a onetime limited engagement, and (depending on your theology) it’s either the defining moment of existence or the final corporeal sensation in the universe’s most remarkable coincidence. How can anyone not be consumed by that? I’m constantly thinking about how bullets would burn into my lungs, or if my eyes would remain open if my skull shattered a windshield, or if cancer cells itch, or how it will sound if and when I drown. I cannot shake the notion of my head being swatted off by a grizzly bear, or of my rib cage being pulverized by a madman with a ballpeen hammer, or of being buried alive. There has never been a day in my life when I didn’t daydream about having both my collarbones crushed into powder. And these are not things I necessary want to happen; these are just things that warrant consideration (certainly more consideration than how I’d most prefer to orgasm). In all likelihood, you don’t think about dying enough. –Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
There are people in this world who cut such a grotesque figure that even death renders them ridiculous. And the more horrible the death the more ridiculous they seem. Its no use trying to invest the end with a little dignityyou have to be a liar and a hypocrite to discover anything tragic in their going. Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
In any man who dies, there dies with him his first snow and kiss and fight … No people die but worlds die in them. –Yevgeny Yevtushenko, People
It was good to die. There was a lightness in it, a letting go, like love. Justin Cronin, The Passage
His body was an immense, dying thing his mind could scarcely contain. And yet it was still histhe same body he’d lived in all the days of his life. How strange it was to die, to feel it leaving him. Yet another part of him had always known. To die, his body told him. To die. That is why we live, to die. ditto
I had always thought that life was the actual thing, the natural thing, and that death was simply the end of living. Now, in this lifeless place, I saw with a terrible clarity that death was the constant, death was the base, and life was only a short, fragile dream. I was dead already. I had been born dead, and what I thought was my life was just a game death let me play as it waited to take me. Nando Parrado, Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home
Ive woken up, Im in our bed, but theres no breathing body there beside me. Someone must have taken you while I was stuck asleep. But I know better as my eyes adjust. Youve been gone for quite a while now The Antlers, Epilogue
A dead body wont bother anyone. It will be a curiosity, but unless some
viewer knew the hatless man it will mean nothing. Theres nothing in a
dead body that suggests what it was like to be alive. No one will know if the
man had unusually large feet, which his friends used to tease him about when
he was a child. No one will know about the scar on his back he got from falling
out of a tree, or that his favorite food was chocolate cake. They will not know
that when he was eighteen he went on a trip with his friends from school, hitchhiked
all the way to Spain, where he slept with a blond girl whose last name he never
knew, and that he would think about this often over the next thirty years, always
at the strangest times, while peeling an orange or sharpening the blade of a
knife or walking up a hill in the rain.
Then there are the things one doesnt mention about the dead. It will not be said that he had a quick temper, or that he sometimes cheated at his monthly card game. He was cheap. When drunk, he was cruel.
None of this will ever be said again, has simply vanished from existence. But these are the things that make a death something to be mourned. Its not just a disappearance of flesh. Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo
I marveled that other men should live, because he, whom I had loved as if he
would never die, was dead. I marveled more that I, his second self, could live
when he was dead … I thought that my soul and his soul were but one soul in
two bodies. Therefore, my life was a horror to me, because I would not live
as but a half. Perhaps because of this I feared to die, lest he whom I had loved
so much should wholly die. –St. Augustine, Confessions
From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity. –Edvard Munch
This was what death was; not what happened when the heart gave out, for if one believed, then that was the start of life. Death was what happened to those who were left behind. –Clare Boylan, Beloved Stranger
It is hard to have patience with people who say There is no death or Death doesnt matter. There is death. And whatever is, matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesnt matter. CS Lewis, A Grief Observed
When the body sinks into death, the essence of man is revealed. Man is a knot, a web, a mesh into which relationships are tied. Only those relationships matter. The body is an old crock that nobody will miss. I have never known a man to think of himself when dying. Never. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Flight to Arras
When she died, his kinetic joy and energy evaporated. When she died, his life seemed to collapse like a black hole, creating the density the encyclopedia calls singularity, a force from which nothing can escape, a negativity that devours even light. –Jean Hegland, Into the Forest
The Zen monk Bassui wrote a letter to one of his disciples who was about to die, and in it he said: “Your end which is endless is as a snowflake dissolving in the pure air.” The snowflake, which was once very much a discernible subsystem of the universe, now dissolves into the larger system which once held it. Though it is no longer present as a distinct subsystem, its essence is somehow present, and will remain so. It floats in Tumbolia, along with hiccups that are not being hiccupped and characters in stories that are not being read. –Douglas Hofstader
The rugged old Norsemen spoke of death as Heimganghome-going. So the snow-flowers go home when they melt and flow to the sea, and the rock-ferns, after unrolling their fronds to the light and beautifying the rocks, roll them up close again in the autumn and blend with the soil. Myriads of rejoicing living creatures, daily, hourly, perhaps every moment sink into deaths arms, dust to dust, spirit to spiritwaited on, watched over, noticed only by their Maker, each arriving at its own Heaven-dealt destiny. All the merry dwellers of the trees and streams, and the myriad swarms of the air, called into life by the sunbeam of a summer morning, go home through death, wings folded perhaps in the last red rays of sunset of the day they were first tried. Trees towering in the sky, braving storms of centuries, flowers turning faces to the light for a single day or hour, having enjoyed their share of lifes feastall alike pass on and away under the law of death and love. Yet all are our brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share Heavens blessings with us, die and are buried in hallowed ground, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity. John Muir, John of the Mountains
We ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning. Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Remember your loves by keeping their spirit alive in you and you will not need sadness. Idolize them only a little. Make peace with their devils, and you will do the same with yours. All will collect dust together. from a 1996 issue of Darks Art Parlour
We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so the moment after death. –Nathaniel Hawthorne, Journal, October 25, 1836
Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when we were not: this gives us no concern—why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be? –William Hazlitt, Table Talk
Between the lips and the voice something goes dying.
Something with the wings of a bird, something of anguish and oblivion.
The way nets cannot hold water.
Pablo Neruda, Twenty Love Poems: XIII
To resonance comes death
like a shoe without a foot, like a suit without a man,
she comes to knock with a stoneless and fingerless ring,
she comes to shout without mouth, without tongue, without throat.
Yet her steps sound
and her dress sounds silent, like a tree.
I know little, I am not well acquainted, I can scarcely see,
but I think that her song has the color of moist violets,
of violets accustomed to the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the gaze of death is green,
with the sharp dampness of a violet leaf
and its dark color of exasperated winter.
Pablo Neruda, Only Death
Whenever I prepare for a journey I prepare as though for death. Should I never return, all is in order. This is what life has taught me. –Katherine Mansfield, in her journal, January 29, 1922
Ah! it is but a little thing, death! I shall fall asleep and all will be over. –Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
–William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
The tide recedes
but leaves behind
bright seashells on the sand.
The sun goes down,
but gentle warmth
still lingers on the land.
The music stops,
And yet it echoes on
in sweet refrains.
For every joy that passes,
something beautiful remains.
–MD Hughes, Poem
Although many of us avoid the subject, death is a potent element in our everyday life. Were not necessarily aware of it all the time, but it has infused our language. –Michael Largo, Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die
Contemplation of our mortality can give a new persepctive, and keep the importance of trivial things...trivial. Every day is truly a gift we must embrace with everything we have. Hug someone, smell a flower, kiss a tree. Sure, we all know we’re going to die—it’s in the contract—and in a healthy way we shouldn’t overtly dwell on it. –ditto
If I had my life over again I would form the habit of nightly composing myself to thoughts of death. I would practice as it were, the remembrance of death. There is no other practice which so intensifies life. Without an ever-present sense of death life is insipid. You might as well live on the whites of eggs. –Muriel Spark, Memento Mori
From nowhere we come, into nowhere we go. What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is a breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. –last words of Chief Isapwo Muksika Crowfoot, as quoted in John Peter Turner’s The North-West Mounted Police
There is no feast on earth which does not end in parting. –Chinese proverb
Death is not the enemy; living in constant fear of it is. –Norman Cousins, The Healing Heart
Loss grew as you did, without your consent No willpower could prevent someone’s dying. –Annie Dillard, An American Childhood
Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever. –Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying
To be blessed in death, one must learn to live. To be blessed in life, one must learn to die. –Jesuit verse
We watch things pass by in order to forget that they are watching us die. –Robbe-Grillet
Here I am trying to live, or rather, I am trying to teach the death within me how to live. –Jean Cocteau
I wonder if, before we were born, we were as afraid of life as we are now of death. –Jay Williams
Die in your thoughts every morning and you will no longer fear death. –Hagakure
Tell them that death is absolutely safe. It’s like taking off a tight shoe. –Pat Rodegast, in contact with a disembodied being named Emmanuel
This is the way to die: beauty keeps laying its sharp knife against me. –Hafiz
Let me at least collect your smells
as specimens: your armpits, wollen sweater,
fingers yellow from smoke. I’d need
to take an imprint of your foot
and make recordings of your laugh.
These archives I shall carry into exile;
my body a St. Helena where ships no longer dock,
a rock in the ocean, an outpost where the wind howls
and polar bears beat down the door.
–Annabelle Despard, “Should You Die First”
Every breath you take is because something has died. Something or someone lived and died so you could have this life. This mountain of dead, they lift you into daylight. How will it find you? How will you enjoy their gift? Leather shoes and fried chicken and dead soldiers are only a tragedy if you waste their gift sitting in front of the television. Or stuck in traffic. Or stranded at some airport. How will you show all the creatures of history? How will you show their birth and work and death were worthwhile? –Chuck Palahniuk, Haunted
someone is dressing up for death today, a change of skirt or tie
eating a final feast of buttered sliced pan, tea
scarcely having noticed the erection that was his last
shaving his face to marble for the icy laying out
spraying with deodorant her coarse armpit grass
someone today is leaving home on business
saluting, terminally, the neighbours who will join in the cortège
someone is trimming his nails for the last time, a precious moment
someone’s thighs will not be streaked with elastic in the future
someone is putting out milkbottles for a day that will not come
someone’s fresh breath is about to be taken clean away
someone is writing a cheque that will be marked “drawer deceased”
someone is circling posthumous dates on a calendar
someone is listening to an irrelevant weather forecast
someone is making rash promises to friends
someone’s coffin is being sanded, laminated, shined
who feels this morning quite as well as ever
someone if asked would find nothing remarkable in today’s date
perfume and goodbyes her final will and testament
someone today is seeing the world for the last time
as innocently as he had seen it first
–Dennis O’Driscoll, “Someone”
For what is it to die,
But to stand in the sun and melt into the wind?
–Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
I hate graveside ceremonies. Not because someone has died, since as it happens I’ve never had to bury anyone I was close to. And to anyone else I’m indifferent. Still, I hate funerals. Against the background of someone’s death, any movement seems immoral. I hate funerals for their tone of beautiful, convincing sorrow. For the tears from people who are really strangers, alien mourners. For the suppressed feeling of gladness: “You didn’t die, it was somebody else.” For the secret excitement about the drinking that will follow. For the exaggerated compliments addressed to the deceased. (I have always wanted to shout, “He couldn’t care less! Be more tolerant of the living. Of me, for example.”) –Sergei Dovlatov, The Compromise
I hate to admit it, but even after years of religious training I really don’t believe in the afterlife. I still think that human beings, even our beautiful and wretched souls, are just biology, are just a series of chemical and physical reactions that one day stop, and so do we, and that is that. But I’m looking forward to this blank peace, this oblivion, this nothing, this not being me anymore. –Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation
It’s the thought of death that is horrifying; the phenomenon itself always comes as naturally as a sunset. –Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!–Mother Jones, The Autobiography of Mother Jones
... we didn’t want to be reminded of how little we counted, how quickly, simply and anonymously death came. Even though my reason wanted the state of death, I was afraid like a virgin of the act. I would have liked death to come with due warning, so that I could prepare myself. For what? I didn’t know, nor how, except by taking a look around at the little I would be leaving. –Graham Greene, The Quiet American
They say one must keep your standards and your values of life alive. But how can I, when I only kept them for you? Everything was for you. I loved life just because you made it so perfect, and now there is no one left to make jokes with, or to talk about Racine and Molière and talk about plans and work and people. I dreamt of you again last night. And when I woke up it was as if you had died afresh. Every day I find it harder to bear. For what point is there in life now? … I look at our favourites, I try and read them, but without you they give me no pleasure. I only remember the evenings when you read them to me aloud and then I cry. I feel as if we had collected all our wheat into a barn to make bread and beer for the rest of our lives and now our barn has been burnt down and we stand on a cold winter morning looking at the charred ruins. For this little room was the gleanings of our life together. All our happiness was over this fire and with these books. With Voltaire blessing us with upraised hand on the wall … It is impossible to think that I shall never sit with you again and hear your laugh. That every day for the rest of my life you will be away. –Carrington, Diaries, February 12-17, 1932 (Lytton Strachey died in January 1932 and Carrington killed herself in March of that year)
If someone is tired and has gone to lie down, we do not pursue him with shouting and bawling. She whom I have lost has lain down to sleep for a while in the Great Inner Room. To break in upon her rest with the noise of lamentation would but show that I knew nothing of nature’s Sovereign Law. That is why I ceased to mourn. –Chuang Tzu
We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love. –Madame de Stael
It is a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
It is difficult
to get bones used
to teach eyes
but we do it
Pablo Neruda, Past
Death ends a life, not a relationship. –Jack Lemmon
There are so many little dyings that it doesn’t matter which of them is death. –Kenneth Patchen
To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that is is the greatest of evils. And surely it is the most blameworthy ignorance to believe that one knows what one does not know. –Plato, The Apology
When I die I shall be content to vanish into nothingness ... No show, however good, could conceivably be good forever ... I do not believe in immortality, and have no desire for it. –H.L. Mencken
Perhaps the place we go to at the end of life is not the primordial ooze but ice—layers and layers of rod-and-cone-shaking beauty. –Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven
A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist. –Stewart Alsop
I find myself preoccupied with thoughts of death. In some moment of emptiness or pain, an image of dying comes to me: a car accident, a heart attack, a vicious and quick-killing disease. In the psychiatric vernacular these are called “passive thoughts of death.” But in my mind these thoughts are quite active. Rather than feeling the revulsion and fear that would have resulted from thinking about these things several months ago, I find them strangely comforting. –Martha Manning, Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface
O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! … Thou has drawn together all the far-stretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two narrow words: Hic jacet! [Here lies] –Sir Walter Raleigh, The History of the World
I am become death, shatterer of worlds. –Robert J. Oppenheimer, upon seeing the first nuclear explosion, which he created
At his passing, there was not even an eddy in the snow, neither the briefest glimpse of the occluded moon nor the faintest stirring through the trees. In this regard, her death, when sooner or later it came, would be like his: the world indifferent, turning smoothly onward toward the fascination of another dawn. – Dean Koontz, False Memory
But of course it had hurt. It had hurt before, in the worst, rupturing way, knowing there would be no more you but the universe would roll on just the same, unharmed and unhampered. –Stephen King, “The Long Walk”
We must have felt what it is to die, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life. –Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Crisco
We talked of death, and this was life to us. –Anne Sexton, describing her friendship with Sylvia Plath
There is…no death…There is only…me…me…who is going to die… –André Malraux, The Royal Way
In the long run we are all dead. –John Maynard Keynes, A Tract on Monetary Reform
Death is the only inescapable, unavoidable, sure thing. We are sentenced to die the day we’re born. –Gary Mark Gilmore
I do not know how death will come to me, though once I thought I did. How I will greet it will depend on how hard or easy it comes in. I am very sure that any pain that might accompany my going could not be as bad or worse than some I’ve known within my life. I am resolved that, if I can, I will view the end as the writer does the blank page just in front of him, a beginning. –Rod McKuen, Alone
Most people think life sucks, and then you die. Not me. I beg to differ. I think life sucks, then you get cancer, then your dog dies, your wife leaves you, the cancer goes into remission, you get a new dog, you get remarried, you owe ten million dollars in medical bills but you work hard for thirty five years and you pay it back and then one day you have a massive stroke, your whole right side is paralyzed, you have to limp along the streets and speak out of the left side of your mouth and drool but you go into rehabilitation and regain the power to walk and the power to talk and then one day you step off a curb at Sixty-seventh Street, and BANG you get hit by a city bus and then you die. Maybe. –Denis Leary
Death: to stop sinning suddenly. –Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
The good die young—because they see it’s no use living if you’ve got to be good. –John Barrymore
Whom the gods love dies young. –Menander, Dis Exapaton
It’s not that we’re afraid, far from it, it’s just that death—it just isn’t us. –John Candy, in Spaceballs
Boy, when you are dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddamn cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you are dead? Nobody. –JD Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
God made death so we’d know when to stop. –Steven Stiles
Everyone dies. Some die because they deserve to; others die simply because they come from Minneapolis. It’s random and it’s meaningless. –John Malkovich, in In the Line of Fire
You may think me shallow or even callous for seeking the laughter in loss, the fun in funerals, but we can honor the dead with laughter and love, which is how we honored them in life. –Dean Koontz, Seize the Night
It’s not, as I thought, that death
creates love. More that love knows death. Therefore
tears, therefore poems, therefore the long stone sobs of cathedrals
that speak to no ferret or fox, that prevent no massacre.
–Anne Stevenson, “Himalayan Balsam”
I give you this
one thought to keep.
I am with you still,
I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken
in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft stars
That shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone—
I am with you still,
in each new dawn.
–Native American prayer
Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy. –Eskimo legend
If only I could feel
me pulling back
& feel embraced
I would die
–Jim Morrison, “If Only I”
It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens. –Woody Allen, in Without Feathers
I’d run home and play dead. The next day, I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns. –Craig, age 9, when asked what he would do on a first date that was turning sour
Is death the last sleep? No, it is the last and final awakening. –Walter Scott
Life is a journey, but we all end up in the same place—dead. –(?)
The difference between sex and death is that with death you can do it alone and no one is going to make fun of you. –Woody Allen
I wouldn’t mind dying. It’s the business of having to stay dead that scares the shit out of me. –R. Geis
We who are about to die are going to take one hell of a lot of the bastards with us. –Joel Rosenberg, The Silver Crown (a nice play on “We who are about to die salute you.”)
[death is] the best asylum for pains and sorrows and troubles and the injustices of life. –Sadiq Hidayat, The Blind Owl
I am afraid of dying—but being dead, oh yes, that to me is often an appealing prospect. –Kathe Kollwitz
People living deeply have no fear of death. –Anaïs Nin, Diary
Those who cling to life die, and those who defy death live. –Uyesugi Kenshin
Every man before he dies shall see the devil. –English proverb
Would that I might die all at once, but mine is a soul that withers day by day. –Imru’al-Qays
When you die, you don’t go to hell. You’re released from it. –Tai Ambler
We call it death to leave this world, but were we once out of it, and instated into the happiness of the next, we should think it were dying indeed to come back to it again. –(?)
We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men. –Jorge Luis Borges
The promise of death is the only thing keeping some people alive. –Fang
Embracing death and the catharsis of “oh my God, I’m going to die” helped me to live. –Tim Burton, in an interview
Before I sink into the big sleep, I want to hear … the scream of the butterfly. –Jim Morrison, “When the Music’s Over”
I wish a storm would come and blow this shit away. Or a bomb to burn the town and scour the sea. I wish clean death would come to me. –Jim Morrison, “Hurricane & Eclipse”
If I must die, I will encounter darkness as a bride and hug it in my arms. –William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
Death and the sun are not to be looked at steadily. –La Rochefoucauld, Maxims
Death is not an evil, for it liberates from all evils … –Giacomo Leopardi, Operette morali
My thoughts are crowded with death
and it draws so oddly on the sexual
that I am confused
confused to be attracted
by, in effect, my own annihilation.
–Thom Gunn, “In Time of Plague”
Even beauty must die! –Friedrich von Schiller, “Lament”
Death was more interesting to him.
Life could not get his attention.
So he died
–Ted Hughes, “Sheep”
Sometimes I think the only thing ready to accept me is death. –Jack Kerouac
The certain prospect of death could sweeten every life with a precious and fragrant drop of levity—and now you strange apothecary souls have turned it into an ill-tasting drop of poison that makes the whole of life repulsive. –Friedrich Nietzsche, 75 Aphorisms
The sole equality on Earth is death. –Philip J. Bailey
Living, I was your plague–
Dying, I’ll be your death.
We are dying, we are dying, piecemeal our bodies are dying
and our strength leaves us,
and our soul cowers naked in the dark rain over the flood
cowering in the last braches of the tree of our life.
–DH Lawrence, “The Ship of Death”
We make love and death at the same time. It is literally possible to die of love. –Carol Muske
Never knock on Death’s door; ring the bell and run away! Death really hates that! –Matt Frewer, in Doctor, Doctor
Alleged Last Words
In spite of it all, I am going to sleep. –Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Go away, I’m all right. –HG Wells
My friend, I am cold. –Jean Sylvain Bailly, at the guillotine
Mother, I’m smothering. –matador Jose Gomez, after being gored by a bull
Let me go, let me go. –Clara Barton
Take me home. I must go home! –composer Phillips Brooks
Let us go in; the fog is rising. –Emily Dickinson
Woe is me, I think I am becoming a god. –Emperor Vespasian
Does nobody understand? –James Joyce
What shall I do next? –Goronwy Rees
Bhikshus, never forget it: decay is inherent in all component things. –Buddha (one version)
The earth is suffocating. Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won’t be buried alive. –last request of Frederic Chopin, written on his deathbed
I feel nothing except a certain difficulty in continuing to exist. –Bernard de Fontenelle
Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life. –Charles Frohman (on the sinking Lusitania)
I am seeing things that you know nothing of. –William Allingham
Don’t weep. What I have done was best for all of us. No use. I shall never be rid of this depression. –one version of Vincent van Gogh’s last words
Now I want to go home. –second version of Van Gogh’s last words
Now comes the mystery. –Henry Ward Beecher
Friends applaud: the comedy is over. –Ludwig von Beethoven
Drink to me. –Pablo Picasso
More light! –Johann von Göethe
Codeine...bourbon. –Tallulah Bankhead
I can’t sleep. –James M. Barrie
Is everybody happy? I want everybody to be happy. I know I’m happy. –Ethel Barrymore
I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis. –Humphrey Bogart
Josephine... –Napoleon Bonaparte
I am about to—or I am going to—die: either expression is correct. –French grammarian Dominique Bouhours
Ah, that tastes nice. Thank you. –Johannes Brahms
Oh, I am not going to die, am I? He will not separate us, we have been so happy. – Charlotte Brontë, spoken to her husband of nine months
Beautiful. –Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in reply to her husband who had asked how she felt
Now I shall go to sleep. Goodnight. –Lord Byron
I am dying. I haven’t drunk champagne for a long time. –Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
I’m bored with it all. –Winston Churchill, before slipping into a coma (he died nine days later)
Goodnight my darlings, I’'ll see you tomorrow. –Noel Coward
Damn it ... Don’t you dare ask God to help me. – Joan Crawford, to her housekeeper, who had begun to pray aloud.
I am not the least afraid to die. –Charles Darwin
My God. What’s happened? –Diana (Spencer), Princess of Wales
Do you hear the rain? Do you hear the rain? –Jessica Dubroff, seven-year-old pilot, minutes before her plane crashed.
Farewell, my friends! I go to glory! –Isadora Duncan
It is very beautiful over there. –Thomas Alva Edison
I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. –Errol Flynn
Turn up the lights, I don’t want to go home in the dark. –O. Henry
I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark. –Thomas Hobbes
I see black light. –Victor Hugo
Let us cross over the river and sit in the shade of the trees. –General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (killed in error by his own troops at the battle of Chancellorsville during the US Civil War)
Why not? Yeah. –Timothy Leary
Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal? –Louis XIV
Nothing matters. Nothing matters. –Louis B. Mayer
It’s all been very interesting. –Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Good-bye ... why am I hemorrhaging? –Boris Pasternak
Put out the light. –Theodore Roosevelt
God bless, God damn. –James Thurber