What people actually say before they die

We all know the stories of profound deathbed dying words by famous folks. Beethoven's "Friends applaud. The comedy is over." Emily Dickinson's "I must go in, for the fog is rising." Bogart's "I never should've switched from Scotch to martinis." Josephine Baker's "You young people act like old men. You are no fun." Steve Jobs' "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow." And my all-time fave: Oscar Wilde's "This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go!" (or similar).

Of course, many of these are likely apocryphal. Culturally, we seem to have a need for finding profundity in the final words of influential people.

But what do most people say in their final moments? That was the question that Lisa Smartt wanted to answer. She embarked on this project after her father had died and she'd sat by his bedside in his final days and recorded all of his words. From there, she went on to analyze the linguistic patterns of 2,000 utterances from 181 dying people, including the words of her father. The results is her 2017 book, Words on the Threshold.

In this Atlantic piece, Michael Erard looks at Smarrt's book and several others that deal in the truth and fiction of final words.

So, what are the common things people say? A lot of it is nonsensical, owing to medication, fading physical and neurological function, pain, and so on. But, it sounds like Steve Job's "Oh wow. Oh wow" is right in line with the apparently common "Oh fuck, oh fuck" (or similar). Heartbreakingly, the last words of dying men are often calls to their mother.

And what were Mort Felix's (Lisa Smartt's dad) last words: "Thank you, I love you, and enough."

Read the full piece here.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash