If you’re going to die (and to the best of my knowledge you probably will) you might as well go out in style. Throughout history, many people’s last words have been remembered - some for their depth and emotion, and some just because it’s kind of funny. You won’t avoid death. But sometimes you can choose how to meet it…
Pietro Aretino, often credited as the father of pornographic writing, died laughing in 1556. Apparently he found a joke so hysterical that he had a stroke. As he lay dying, and a priest administered his last rites, his final concern in life was “keep me from the rats.” We say “laughter is the best medicine” - just be careful not to overdose…
Another O.D involved comedian and addict Lenny Bruce, or Leonard Schneider. He was found naked and dead on the floor, only several hours before asking a friend, “do you know where I can get any shit?” Obviously he found some.
In classic cases of the “It-Won’t Ever-Happen-To-Me’s”, James Dean (moments before his speeding car crashed into another vehicle, killing himself and injuring two others) stated “That guy’s got to stop… he’ll see us.” General John Sedgwick announced moments before he was shot in battle “they couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance!” And the Witch from the Brothers Grimm tale “Hansel and Gretel” was stupid enough to climb into the oven saying, “You stupid goose. The opening’s large enough. Watch, even I can get in.”
The Marquis de Favras was handed an official death sentence shortly before he was executed. Upon reading the notice, he casually pointed out “I see that you have made three spelling mistakes.”
Captain Henry Wirz complained the noose around his neck was “too tight” before he was hung.
Saint Lawrence was stripped and tied facedown on a gridiron suspended over burning coals, which slowly burnt him to death. His last request was “Turn me. I am roasted on one side.” The experience turned him into a martyr, apparently converting people to Christianity as they watched.
These men may have been physically destroyed by their captors, but their outward indifference to death just made them look too cool for school, robbing their executors of any malevolent satisfaction or glory.
There are those that die hopefully - after accepting a duel in 1820 (and losing) Stephen Decatur stated “I am mortally wounded… I think.” And there are those that die hatefully - “You cursed brat. Look what you’ve done. I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!” (Wicked Witch of the West).
But if words are to fail you in your own final moments, do not despair. Take inspiration from Mata Hari, who when faced with her death, simply smiled and winked at the firing squad. For often in life, there is more mystery and power in all that things that are just left unsaid.
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