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Being Prepared
by Jan Sand
2007-04-10 10:03:23
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Although Iraq is the likeliest current place to get whacked these days there is a chronological Baghdad that we all eventually enter where time takes its final potent pot-shots. After the age of 80, interest intensifies in seeing who has been the latest to succumb to the process of merely wearing out.

The daily obituary column in the newspaper keeps one posted on the most prominent dropouts but there develops an irresistible tendency to cross over to the other side of the street when spotting a hooded figure bearing a scythe even though it may prove to be only an itinerant agricultural laborer.

So it's smart to be ready for the worst. It doesn't hurt to wise up to what last words were said in the past and what epitaphs speak their silent wisdoms to eternity.

Humphrey Bogart's last words were "I never should have switched from scotch to martinis." Errol Flynn's last utterance was "I've had a hell of a lot of fun and I've enjoyed every minute of it!" George Bernard Shaw's last remark was "Dying is easy, comedy is hard."

A convicted murderer, James French, just before he was electrocuted cried out "Hey fellas. How about this for a headline for tomorrow's newspaper: French fries!"

When Voltaire, on his deathbed, was requested by a priest to renounce Satan he replied, "Now, now, my good man. This is no time for making enemies."

Oscar Wilde was somewhat distracted in his last moments. He said," My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go." Although the wallpaper was temporarily triumphant, that final evaluation persuaded the hotel where Wilde died to have it changed so, evidently, the dead can retain a morsel of effectiveness.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Richard Feynman each had negative final utterances. Churchill noted, "I'm bored with it all". Feynman extended this to, "I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring." And FDR commented more to the point and perhaps made a general observation on life, "I have a terrific headache."

Karl Marx, in his final statement, summed up the whole business. "Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven't said enough."

The problem with last words is that only convicted criminals can know precisely with certainty when to speak them. If I spent months concocting a clever final statement and then delivered it when I gauged the time was ripe and subsequently discovered that the doctors had pulled me through, the frustration might be sufficient to prompt suicide. And then I would have to figure out a very clever suicide note. As provident insurance it would be a good idea beforehand to have worked out both a clever last statement and, as a backup, a resoundingly striking suicide note, just in case.

Frankly, in this commercial civilization of ours, I am astonished an enterprising and clever writer has not worked up an organization to provide these very basic necessities of death at a reasonable but rewarding price. The danger here, of course, is that an extremely clever suicide note might provide overwhelming incentive to put it to use. So, obviously, payment must be demanded before it can be used.

Epitaphs require a different approach. There are some prime examples.

Mel Blanc, the voice of the movie cartoon character Porky Pig, had his headstone inscribed, "That's all, folks" Without the characteristic stutter, I gather. Rodney Dangerfield who never got any respect gave himself some on his headstone. "There goes the neighborhood".

John Donne was direct and to the point. "John Donne undone." W.C.Fields wrote down what he desired but it was never put on his stone. "I'd rather be living in Philadelphia."

Werner Heisenberg who developed the uncertainty principle proclaims on his stone, "He lies here, somewhere."

Jeremiah Johnson remarks ironically "I told you I was sick" and H.G.Wells who predicted more generally has a headstone that grimaces "I told you so, you damned fools."

Winston Churchill, who was justifiably impressed with himself, proclaims on his stone," I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter."

Henry Edsel Smith tells a story. " He looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was". Lester Moore, in the same vein, has "Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a 44. No Les, no Moore."

In a philosophical mode H.L.Mencken has inscribed," If, after I depart this vale, you remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl."

Timing of last words is much too precarious for me to work out now. No doubt I will end with some kind of bubbling gasping sound with no profundity whatsoever and certainly not quotable by anyone over two months old.

I have a tentative epitaph in mind to indicate a certain caution on my final condition. "Here lies Jan Sand, his bones and his head. Six feet down and hopefully, dead."

Or perhaps something more dynamic like, " Hey! There's a worm in my ear!"

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John Eastwood2007-04-10 19:15:53
The great Spike Milligan's epitaph 'I told you I was ill' summed up the man to a tee

Simon2007-04-10 21:43:59
On my tombstone I want: I'm actually buried over there.

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