We become terminally ill the moment we are born.  Yet, when a physician utters the “t-word”, one can’t help but feel shock and disorientation.  “It’s terminal” raises fears and dread more than any other two words in the English language – except perhaps “tax audit”.  And yet, grappling with one’s imminent mortality brings a clarity that seems to elude so many of us throughout our lives.  Life experience becomes wisdom and, often, that wisdom is passed on to family gathered to pay their last respects.   We’ve collected some of that “death bed wisdom” below.  The statements are attributed as last words (LW) as those many fertile minds went gently (or grudgingly) into that good night.  And some are observations about mortality in the “closing chapter” of their author’s life.   We only ask that you apply their wisdom now, and not in the final weeks and days of your own life. 

Dying statements made by famous persons

“A party!  Let’s have a party.” (LW)

  • Margaret Sanger, activist and Planned Parenthood founder

“Love one another.”   (LW)

  • George Harrison & William Henry Seward

“For my name and memory, I leave it to men’s charitable speeches, and to foreign nations, and the next ages.”  (LW)

  • Sir Francis Bacon

The story of life is quicker than the blink of an eye.  The story of love is hello and goodbye, until we meet again. “  (LW)

  • Jimi Hendrix

“One last drink, please.”  (LW)

  • Jack Daniels (yes, that one)

“This is the last of earth.  I am content.”  (LW)

  • John Quincy Adams (4thS. President)

“I am about to take my last voyage. A great leap in the dark” (LW)

  • Thomas Hobbes, philosopher

“The taste of death is upon my lips.  I feel something that is not of this earth.” (LW)

  • Mozart

“Oh, you young people act like old men.  You have no fun.”  (LW)

  • Josephine Baker, entertainer after leaving a party held in her honor on the last night of her life.

“Relax.  This won’t hurt.”  (LW)

  • Hunter S. Thompson, writer

“Doctor, if I put this here guitar down now, I ain’t never gonna wake up.” (LW)

  • Lead Belly – blues musician

“And now for a final word from our sponsor.” (LW)

  • Charles Gussman, a TV announcer and writer

“This is no way to live.”  (LW)

  • Groucho Marx

“Remember, Honey.  Don’t forget what I told you.  Put in my coffin a deck of cards, a [golf club] and a pretty blonde.” (LW)

  • Chico Marx

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.[Live Long and Prosper]” (LW)

  • Leonard Nimoy, actor’s final text

“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist—” (LW)

– John B. Sedgwick, general, 1864

“Smile well and often, it makes people wonder what you’ve been up to.” “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching”

  • Both quotes attributed to ballplayer Satchel Paige, near the end of his life

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations.”

  • George Bernard Shaw

“These then are my last words to you. Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and that you belief will help create the fact.”

  • William James, psychologist

“Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time… It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other. “

  • Leo Buscaglia

“As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.”

  • Leonardo da Vinci

“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.”

  • Leonardo da Vinci

“It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time. ”

  • Samuel Johnson

“Death never takes the wise man by surprise.  He is always ready to go.”

  • Jean de La Fontaine

“Cowards die many times before their deaths.  The valiant never taste of death but once.”

  • William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)

“I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe in it. It’s just getting out of one car, and into another.”

  • John Lennon

“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.”

  • John Lennon

“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.”

  • Ira Byock, author

Deathbed statements by less famous persons

  1. “The only thing that matters in the end is how much you loved.” – Tuesdie Fica, 2019.
  2. “All the things I worried about and worked so hard for – they don’t matter now. What matters is the connections I’ve made and the lives I’ve touched.” – Jane Doe, 2021.
  3. “I wish I had spent less time worrying and more time enjoying the simple pleasures of each day.” – Richard Williams,  2022.
  4. “The most important legacy we can leave is the positive impact we’ve had on others, not the material things we accumulate.” – Amara Patel, 2020.
  5. “In the end, it’s not about achieving everything you dreamed of. It’s about being at peace with yourself and the life you lived.” – John Erikson, 2023.
  6. “The true meaning of life is found in the love we share and the compassion we show, not in status or possessions.” – Maria Gonzalez, 2021.
  7. “I’ve realized how little the petty concerns of daily life really matter. What counts is how you treated people and what you did to make the world better.” – Tom Harrington  2021

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