Last Things

 

Mark Twain once wrote, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” I’ve always liked Twain, probably because his temperament and philosophy pretty much match my own. I’m in a Twain state of mind this morning, so I thought I’d use Twain as my spirit guide as I write a post on last things.

OK then, first things first: last words. I don’t know about you, but I want to leave a good last impression. Here’s Mark Twain with a hint to help us to do just that: “A man should be as particular about his last words as he is about his last breath. He should write them out on a slip of paper. . . .and never leave such a thing to the last hour of his life.”

Let me show you how things can go terribly wrong if you don’t prepare. As he was being prepped for a dangerous surgery that he didn’t survive, big band drummer, Buddy Rich, was asked by a nurse, “Is there anything you can’t take.” Rich blurted out, “Yeah, country music.” The nurse was talking about medications.

If a contest ever offered a prize for the most banal last words, Robert Comer, a murderer, would win going away. In the moment before he was lethally injected, Comer said, “Go Raiders.”

The most embarrassing last words, however, were spoken by the General of the Union Army, John Sedgwick, who said confidently, with the enemy a half-mile or so away, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist. . . . “

Steve Jobs, however, pulled it off with style. His last words were, “Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!” Perhaps Jobs, in a flash of prescience, was seeing something wonderful beyond the grave. I tend to think, however, that Jobs had already prepared those words for posterity. They just seem just too good to be an off-the cuff remark. He probably wrote them down on a little slip of paper, as Twain advised.

Like Twain, I don’t believe in an afterlife. But instead of getting all gloomy, let’s look at the upsides of oblivion. You might end up, for instance, mixing with the rich earth that encourages a crocus to emerge out of the snow in the spring. Or compacted into a diamond that graces a sweet young girl’s ring finger. Your consciousness, of course, won’t survive the transition to flowers and diamonds, but let’s look at the upside of that: You will no longer have your heart broken by an unfaithful lover, there will be no more bosses to call you an idiot, and there will be no NFL quarterback to complete a Hail Mary pass in the last seconds of the Super Bowl and thus ruin what, till that moment, was a winning bet that you were going to use to buy a massage chair from Sharper Image.

By the way, I have no bones to pick with those who disagree with my version of the afterlife. We pluck the fruit that pleases our taste and leave all the rest. Or as the ancient Romans used to say, “De gustibus non est disputandum.” That is, there’s no sense arguing about taste. And in metaphysics, it really is little more than a matter of taste — that is, until someone comes back with a selfie of him and Charon crossing the river Styx.

I’d like to be cremated, preferably by my daughter Annie, a funeral director. Then my wife Marie can pour some of my ashes into a freezer bag and put it in this little box that I made a while back. It’s a simple thing: two strips of maple inlaid into a wood called cocobolo, the top attached with a piano hinge. I did embellish it a bit by carving a little face into it for my and my grandkids’ amusement — and for the puzzlement of later generations.

I’ve already put little objects in the box that will accompany my ashes: my Army dog tags, a blue ribbon from a ping pong tournament I won as a kid in 1954, a few jigsaw pieces, my Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen membership card, a couple of perfectly completed Saturday (the hard day) NY Times crossword puzzles, and a photo of Marie and me drinking a beer in Berlin.

I have two more little boxes already there on the mantle, one with my mom’s cremains and one with my dad’s. I’d like my box to be placed alongside theirs. (You see, I am a sentimentalist.) So there we’ll be, three Forresters, all in a row, a little memento mori to inspire those who walk by to reflect on their own mortality. Marie will join us later, but she’s a sturdy woman five years younger than I am, so I suspect I’ll have a while to wait. In the meantime, I’m counting on Marie to keep our boxes dusted and shined every now and then with carnauba wax.

I think I’ve got this whole thing all figured out — if only I can come up with something interesting to say just before leave all this behind. I’m going to have to give that some more thought.

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  1. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    I think that Latin quotation probably wasn’t from the ancient Greeks directly…

    • #1
  2. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    KentForrester: I’d like to be cremated, preferably by my daughter Annie, a funeral director. Then my wife Marie can pour some of my ashes into a freezer bag and put it in this little box that I made awhile back. It’s a simple thing: two strips of maple inlaid into a wood called coco bolo, the top attached with a piano hinge. I did embellish it a bit by carving a little face into it for my and my grandkids’ amusement — and for the puzzlement of later generations. 

    I want to be cremated, then have my ashes shot out of a torpedo tube by one of our nuclear fast-attack submarines (preferably in the Atlantic Ocean).  It would be sort of a final tour of duty.  The navigator would mark the spot on a chart, then send it to my widow so she can frame it and put it on the wall.

    • #2
  3. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    I think that Latin quotation probably wasn’t from the ancient Greeks directly…

    Darn it, I would have to have Ricochet readers who know things.

    • #3
  4. E. Kent Golding Member
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    KentForrester: Let me show you how things can go terribly wrong if you don’t prepare. As he was being prepped for a dangerous surgery that he didn’t survive, big band drummer, Buddy Rich, was asked by a nurse, “Is there anything you can’t take.” Rich blurted out, “Yeah, country music.” The nurse was talking about medications.

    That’s actually kind of funny.   I like country music,  but I think Buddy knew exactly what the nurse was asking,  and was facing his surgery bravely. I like big band and swing also.

    • #4
  5. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Stad (View Comment):

    KentForrester: I’d like to be cremated, preferably by my daughter Annie, a funeral director. Then my wife Marie can pour some of my ashes into a freezer bag and put it in this little box that I made awhile back. It’s a simple thing: two strips of maple inlaid into a wood called coco bolo, the top attached with a piano hinge. I did embellish it a bit by carving a little face into it for my and my grandkids’ amusement — and for the puzzlement of later generations.

    I want to be cremated, then have my ashes shot out of a torpedo tube by one of our nuclear fast-attack submarines (preferably in the Atlantic Ocean). It would be sort of a final tour of duty. The navigator would mark the spot on a chart, then send it to my widow so she can frame it and put it on the wall.

    Interesting way to go.  Sounds like it would be difficult to pull off?  Is there a possibility?

    • #5
  6. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Let me show you how things can go terribly wrong if you don’t prepare. As he was being prepped for a dangerous surgery that he didn’t survive, big band drummer, Buddy Rich, was asked by a nurse, “Is there anything you can’t take.” Rich blurted out, “Yeah, country music.” The nurse was talking about medications.

    That’s actually kind of funny. I like country music, but I think Buddy knew exactly what the nurse was asking, and was facing his surgery bravely. I like big band and swing also.

    Kent, you could be right, but, as they say nowadays, it didn’t fit my narrative. 

    • #6
  7. E. Kent Golding Member
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Let me show you how things can go terribly wrong if you don’t prepare. As he was being prepped for a dangerous surgery that he didn’t survive, big band drummer, Buddy Rich, was asked by a nurse, “Is there anything you can’t take.” Rich blurted out, “Yeah, country music.” The nurse was talking about medications.

    That’s actually kind of funny. I like country music, but I think Buddy knew exactly what the nurse was asking, and was facing his surgery bravely. I like big band and swing also.

    Kent, you could be right, but, as they say nowadays, it didn’t fit my narrative.

    Well Kent,   when things don’t fit your narrative, it is better to just insert a picture of Bob,  Marie,  or Marie with Bob instead of making them fit the narrative.

    • #7
  8. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Who was it who said “Either this wallpaper goes or I do”?

    • #8
  9. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Let me show you how things can go terribly wrong if you don’t prepare. As he was being prepped for a dangerous surgery that he didn’t survive, big band drummer, Buddy Rich, was asked by a nurse, “Is there anything you can’t take.” Rich blurted out, “Yeah, country music.” The nurse was talking about medications.

    That’s actually kind of funny. I like country music, but I think Buddy knew exactly what the nurse was asking, and was facing his surgery bravely. I like big band and swing also.

    Kent, you could be right, but, as they say nowadays, it didn’t fit my narrative.

    Well Kent, when things don’t fit your narrative, it is better to just insert a picture of Bob, Marie, or Marie with Bob instead of making them fit the narrative.

    Ha ha.
    The Scarecrow (View Comment)
    :

    Who was it who said “Either this wallpaper goes or I do”?

    Bruce, I think it was Oscar Wilde. But I don’t have a quotation dictionary with me.

    • #9
  10. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    I’ve given this some thought, and I want my last words to be, “I guess that’ll do.”

     

    • #10
  11. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    It is traditional for Catholics to meditate on the seven last words of Christ, by which we mean his last sentences actually, especially during the Triduum, of which today is Holy Saturday. 

    “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

    “This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.”

    “Woman, behold thy son.”

    “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”

    “I thirst.”

    “It is consummated.”

    “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

    One of my favorite meditations is from Venerable Bishop Sheen. Here’s a link.

    I hope I die with the words of the Schma on my lips, “Schma! Yisrael! Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad!”

    • #11
  12. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    It is traditional for Catholics to meditate on the seven last words of Christ, by which we mean his last sentences actually, especially during the Triduum, of which today is Holy Saturday.

    “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

    “This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.”

    “Woman, behold thy son.”

    “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”

    “I thirst.”

    “It is consummated.”

    “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

    One of my favorite meditations is from Venerable Bishop Sheen. Here’s a link.

    I hope I die with the words of the Schma on my lips, “Schma! Yisrael! Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad!”

    Mama Toad, I can’t think of any words more important to meditate on before one dies. Each word of a man in such distress needs to be considered. 

    • #12
  13. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    “Since you only die once, one should do it well,” PHCheese.

    • #13
  14. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    “Since you only die once, one should do it well,” PHCheese.

    Unless you’re a coward, and then you die a thousand deaths, or so I’ve read.  Or unless you’re one of those reincarnated beings who keep coming back, dying, keep coming back, dying, ad infinitum.

    • #14
  15. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    ad infinitum

    Is that Greek? (tee hee, just kidding)

    • #15
  16. She Member
    She
    @She

    KentForrester: But instead of getting all gloomy, let’s look at the upsides of oblivion. You might end up, for instance, mixing with the rich earth that encourages a crocus to emerge out of the snow in the spring.

    This is exactly my perspective when dealing with pets and livestock.  Buster, Pookie, Cinnamon, Wulfie, Brownie, Duke, Pete the Goat, Penny, Edna, Geoffrey, Zippy the Pinhead, Twiggy.  And on and on.  You’re here with me, and I see you, every single year, in the flowers and the trees that grow over your remains.

    And lately I’ve become a fan of “green burials” for humans, for much the same reason.  My mother was one such.  As was Sam.  

    I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition.  I think it’s possible to have a deep faith and religious belief, without the gloom, and with expectations of rebirth.  Right?  Hello?

    My dad was cremated.  Some of  his ashes feed the flowers in a place that he loved.  And my sister and I sprinkled the rest on the waters somewhere else, in another such place that he loved (my dad, as large in death as he was in life, had plenty of ashes).  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    I remember a lunch that Mr. She and I had with some friends, husband and wife, years ago.  Both of them are gone now.  He said, “we’re moving to a small apartment.  We’re getting rid of most of our stuff.  And when we die, our children will call us blessed.” 

    Amen to that.  Working on that myself.

    • #16
  17. Bob W Member
    Bob W
    @WBob

    About Steve Jobs’ last words, I chalk that up to nothing more than that it likely feels really weird when you’re actually dying, if all the pain is blocked, so he felt himself slipping away and those words were his response to that feeling. 

    • #17
  18. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    ad infinitum

    Is that Greek? (tee hee, just kidding)

    Hebrew.

    • #18
  19. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester: But instead of getting all gloomy, let’s look at the upsides of oblivion. You might end up, for instance, mixing with the rich earth that encourages a crocus to emerge out of the snow in the spring.

    This is exactly my perspective when dealing with pets and livestock. Buster, Pookie, Cinnamon, Wulfie, Brownie, Duke, Pete the Goat, Penny, Edna, Geoffrey, Zippy the Pinhead, Twiggy. And on and on. You’re here with me, and I see you, every single year, in the flowers and the trees that grow over your remains.

    And lately I’ve become a fan of “green burials” for humans, for much the same reason. My mother was one such. As was Sam.

    I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. I think it’s possible to have a deep faith and religious belief, without the gloom, and with expectations of rebirth. Right? Hello?

    My dad was cremated. Some of his ashes feed the flowers in a place that he loved. And my sister and I sprinkled the rest on the waters somewhere else, in another such place that he loved (my dad, as large in death as he was in life, had plenty of ashes). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    I remember a lunch that Mr. She and I had with some friends, husband and wife, years ago. Both of them are gone now. He said, “we’re moving to a small apartment. We’re getting rid of most of our stuff. And when we die, our children will call us blessed.”

    Amen to that. Working on that myself.

    Mrs. She, I have a brother-in-law, a hoarder, who has tons of stuff. He’s near the end, and his daughters despair of trying to get rid of his stuff when he goes.  It’s really quite a burden on one’s children to leave that much stuff behind. 

    • #19
  20. She Member
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester: But instead of getting all gloomy, let’s look at the upsides of oblivion. You might end up, for instance, mixing with the rich earth that encourages a crocus to emerge out of the snow in the spring.

    This is exactly my perspective when dealing with pets and livestock. Buster, Pookie, Cinnamon, Wulfie, Brownie, Duke, Pete the Goat, Penny, Edna, Geoffrey, Zippy the Pinhead, Twiggy. And on and on. You’re here with me, and I see you, every single year, in the flowers and the trees that grow over your remains.

    And lately I’ve become a fan of “green burials” for humans, for much the same reason. My mother was one such. As was Sam.

    I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. I think it’s possible to have a deep faith and religious belief, without the gloom, and with expectations of rebirth. Right? Hello?

    My dad was cremated. Some of his ashes feed the flowers in a place that he loved. And my sister and I sprinkled the rest on the waters somewhere else, in another such place that he loved (my dad, as large in death as he was in life, had plenty of ashes). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    I remember a lunch that Mr. She and I had with some friends, husband and wife, years ago. Both of them are gone now. He said, “we’re moving to a small apartment. We’re getting rid of most of our stuff. And when we die, our children will call us blessed.”

    Amen to that. Working on that myself.

    Mrs. She, I have a brother-in-law, a hoarder, who has tons of stuff. He’s near the end, and his daughters despair of trying to get rid of his stuff when he goes. It’s really quite a burden on one’s children to leave that much stuff behind.

    Any Ricochet members with an interest in O-Scale model train items, please let me know, Looking for a good home.

    • #20
  21. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    KentForrester: I’d like to be cremated, preferably by my daughter Annie, a funeral director. Then my wife Marie can pour some of my ashes into a freezer bag and put it in this little box that I made awhile back. It’s a simple thing: two strips of maple inlaid into a wood called coco bolo, the top attached with a piano hinge. I did embellish it a bit by carving a little face into it for my and my grandkids’ amusement — and for the puzzlement of later generations.

    I want to be cremated, then have my ashes shot out of a torpedo tube by one of our nuclear fast-attack submarines (preferably in the Atlantic Ocean). It would be sort of a final tour of duty. The navigator would mark the spot on a chart, then send it to my widow so she can frame it and put it on the wall.

    Interesting way to go. Sounds like it would be difficult to pull off? Is there a possibility?

    Probably not possible.  The last thing a sub CO would want is to have an urn jam the outer door mechanism of his torpedo tube.  He’d probably play it safe and surface, then heave me over the side and run a man overboard drill . . .

    • #21
  22. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Let me show you how things can go terribly wrong if you don’t prepare. As he was being prepped for a dangerous surgery that he didn’t survive, big band drummer, Buddy Rich, was asked by a nurse, “Is there anything you can’t take.” Rich blurted out, “Yeah, country music.” The nurse was talking about medications.

    That’s actually kind of funny. I like country music, but I think Buddy knew exactly what the nurse was asking, and was facing his surgery bravely. I like big band and swing also.

    Kent, you could be right, but, as they say nowadays, it didn’t fit my narrative.

    Well Kent, when things don’t fit your narrative, it is better to just insert a picture of Bob, Marie, or Marie with Bob instead of making them fit the narrative.

    Ha ha.
    The Scarecrow (View Comment)
    :

    Who was it who said “Either this wallpaper goes or I do”?

    Bruce, I think it was Oscar Wilde. But I don’t have a quotation dictionary with me.

    I think it was Wilde too.

    • #22
  23. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    Last year when I discovered a lump in my breast I had about 5 seconds of sheer terror. I assumed it was cancer and indeed it was. Then I amazed myself by feeling incredibly calm and not afraid of death, And I am not a person of deep faith or religiosity. As a result, as I told each friend and relative, including my husband, I preceded the announcement with “Now don’t freak out”. And they didn’t, at least not where I could see them. During the last year we took care of business and I am now cured. And I know that I am not afraid of dying.

    So I think if loved ones are gathered around my deathbed I will say “Now don’t freak out!”. I would have it on my tombstone but I’m going to be cremated and my ashes scattered in a mountain stream.

    • #23
  24. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    KentForrester: You might end up, for instance, mixing with the rich earth that encourages a crocus to emerge out of the snow in the spring. Or compacted into a diamond that graces a sweet young girl’s ring finger.

    Or, with somewhat less optimism:

    “Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
    Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
    Oh, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
    Should patch a wall t’ expel the winter’s flaw!”

    Hamlet

    • #24
  25. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Stad (View Comment):

    Bruce, I think it was Oscar Wilde. But I don’t have a quotation dictionary with me.

    I think it was Wilde too.

    Since we all have a quotation dictionary with us, I checked. It was.

    • #25
  26. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    KentForrester:

    I’ve already put little objects in the box that will accompany my ashes: my Army dog tags, a blue ribbon from a ping pong tournament I won as a kid in 1954, a few jigsaw pieces, my Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen membership card, a couple of perfectly completed Saturday (the hard day) NY Times crossword puzzles, and a photo of Marie and me drinking a beer in Berlin.

    I would also suggest that you include a picture of you, Marie, AND Bob.🙂

    (Great post!)

    • #26
  27. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    Death isn’t the end. There still remains litigation over the estate. ( Ambrose Bierce, I believe, and if Ambrose Bierce didn’t say it, he should have.)

    • #27
  28. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    America was better when the spirit of Twain, Ambrose Bierce and HL Mencken permeated journalism. A studied non-partisan cynicism that never bought into the spin and could laugh (darkly) at brazen charlatans like Curley or Edwards.  Howie Carr’s treatment of the Massachusetts political class is in that proud tradition.

    The humorless self-regard and pitiful herd mentality across academia and the MSM needs a Mark Twain as ombudsman.  

    • #28
  29. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Morbid thread, this.

    Stephen Wright has said that he wished his first word had been “Quote,” so when he dies his last word could be “Unquote.”

    It’s hard to top W. C. Fields’ epitaph: “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” Although if he could see Philly as it is today there might be a revision.

    I’m personally planning on cremation and having my ashes scattered, so as to get ’em back into the environment ASAP and cost my family as little as possible in the process. Most of what passes for funerals these days strikes me as excessively morbid and much too expensive. Although I must admit, I would consider some variation of Eugene Shoemaker’s interment, since a capsule of his ashes was crashed into the Moon at the end of the Lunar Prospector mission. It’s a shame that he never got to visit the Moon but at least he’s buried there.

     

    • #29
  30. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Lent and Advent compel us Catholics to ponder the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. And today in particular, Holy Saturday, reminds us of the fact that Christ died in the flesh and made the underworld tremble. There is hope for the resurrection of the body. Believe and do not be afraid.

    The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.

    • #30
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