Many people ponder their dying days in the course of their life. They try to picture the circumstances and things that would happen to them a moment before they sink into the grave. But nobody has the power to envisage the hand of death. However, people with an exceptional and natural capacity of intellect or ability can see the light in a most amazing manner. The Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleev saw the table of elements in his dream. Some of the technological wonders described in science fiction stories by the French novelist Jules Verne eventually became a reality. Quite a few of the great Russian writers had premonitions of their death. Moreover, some of them even described in their books the circumstances of their death.
Some famous deathbed quotations
- Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish essayist and historian, said quietly before giving up the ghost: “So that’s how it feels like when you’re dying.”
- “Well, if it’s inevitable…” said Edvard Grieg, a Norwegian composer, before meeting his death.
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, the father of the Hegelian dialectic, remained loyal to his thesis and antithesis to the very end. “There is only one person who could understand me during my entire life,” Hegel whispered in his dying hour. “In essence, even he didn’t understand me,” added he after a short pause.
- The Queen of France Marie Antoinette looked very collected on the day of her execution. She stumbled and stepped on the executioner’s foot while mounting the scaffold. “Please forgive me for doing so, it was not intentional by any means,” said she to the executioner.
- The Emperor of Rome Nero let out a scream before dropping down dead: “What a great actor is dying in me!”
- Waslaw Nijinsky, Anatole France, Giuseppe Garibaldi, George Byron whispered the same word before passing away: “Momma!”
- A priest was praying over the deathbed of Friedrich I, the King of Prussia. Having heard the priest say “You come naked into this word and you go naked out of this world,” Friedrich pushed away the priest’s hand and shouted out: “Don’t you dare bury me naked! I want to wear my full dress uniform…”
- “I’ve insulted both God and people! My works haven’t reached the heights I’ve been striving to attain!” exclaimed the great Leonardo da Vinci before yielding up the ghost.
- The Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev, the author of the well-known line “A thought when spoken is a lie” said in his dying hour: “It’s torture when you can’t find the words to convey a thought.”
- Mikhail Romanov took off his boots and handed them over to his executioners. He said the following: “You can use these boots, gents. These are the czar’s boots, after all.”
- The notorious dancer/spy Mata Hari blew a kiss to the solders of a firing squad and said: “Boys, I’m ready.”
- “Das ist gut,” the German philosopher Immanuel Kant was quoted as saying.
- “I still feel awfully bad!” said the Russian poetess Anna Akhamatova after receiving yet another shot of camphor as she lay on her sickbed.
- “I’m running out of my film,” said Auguste Lumiere, one of the inventors of a motion-picture camera.
- Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of the poet Osip Mandelstam, said to her nurse: “Don’t you be afraid.”
- Albert Einstein’s last words could not be recorded because his nurse did not speak German.
The Russian writer Ivan Turgenev passed away in a small town near Paris on August 22, 1883. He was 65. His last words were somewhat strange: “Farewell, my dear whitish ones…”
There were no bereaved relatives gathered around the writer’s deathbed. Turgenev was never married. For many years he played the questionable role of a true fried of Paulina Viardot’s family, the woman with whom he had a longstanding relationship. In his own words, he was “huddling around somebody else’s fireplace” throughout his life. To some extent, the lay of his death resembles that of Bazarov, a protagonist of his novel The Fathers and Sons. Bazarov’s lover saw him cross the Styx just like Viardo saw Turgenev breathe his last.
Fedor Dostoevsky awake at dawn on January 28, 1881. All of a sudden, he realized that the day would be the last day of his life. He lay awake for awhile, waiting for his wife Anna to wake up. His wife did not believe him first – Dostoevsky felt better a day before. Yet he persisted in calling for a priest. Dostoevsky died soon after receiving his last communion.
The old man Zosima, one of the characters in Dostoevsky’s The Karamazov Brothers, acted in a similar way in the novel. His friends were amazed when Zosima told them that he was about to die. His friends were certain that the old man’s health had recently improved. Zosima met his end in a meekly fashion. He could feel his death was nigh and “he knelt down and put his face on the ground… He began praying and kissed the ground a few times as if in a feeling of bliss. His heart was full of joy as he resigned his breath.”
Anton Chekhov died in the small hours of June 2, 1904. He was in a hotel room of the town of Badenweiler, a resort in Germany. A German doctor told Chekhov that his hours were numbered. In line with the old German medical tradition, a doctor who delivers a death diagnosis to his colleague, is supposed to treat the dying man to a glass of champagne. The doctor did accordingly. “I’m dying,” said Chekhov in German and downed the champagne.
Chekhov’s wife Olga wrote later that the “terrible still” of that night was shattered by a “gigantic black butterfly, which relentlessly flew about the room, banging agonizingly against the light bulbs.”
The merchant Lopakhin, a character of Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, buys the orchard, and asks Ranevskaya, who just sold it to him, to celebrate the deal by drinking champagne. The loss of the orchard is akin to a spiritual death to Ranevskaya. All turns quite on stage at the end of the play before the curtain falls. The only sound comes from the “axes hewing the trees in the distance.”
Leo Tolstoy spent his last days in Astapovo, a backwater railroad station. At 83 the Count Tolstoy decided to put an end to the orderly life in his estate of Yasnaya Polyana. Accompanied by his daughter and a family doctor, he boarded the train to travel incognito. He caught cold while riding on the train. Soon he was diagnosed with pneumonia.
“I love the truth,” were Tolstoy’s last words, which he said in the morning on November 7, 1907. According to other witnesses, Tolstoy said “I don’t understand” before ceasing to breathe.
In Tolstoy’s story Death of Ivan Ilyich, the leading character lies on his deathbed. He is in great pain and panic-stricken. Shortly before closing his eyes, he confesses that everything in his life “went wrong.” He asks himself if there is anything that was “right.” He then acquiesces to the inevitability of his death. Ivan Ilyich suddenly finds out that “there was no fear at all because there was no death. There was light in lieu of death.”
Gennady Poroshenko, a Doctor of Biology, head of scientific and organizational department of the Institute of General Resuscitation Studies, comments on the article:
“I believe some spiritual component of a human being stays alive after death. They say that the spirit of a deceased person will go either to hell or heaven depending on the way he lived his life on Earth.
I can’t seem to tell the difference between ‘heaven’ and ‘hell.’ As for me, the Russian Orthodox Church doctrine says that hell implies the deprivation of the presence of God while heaven is a place where God is always at hand.
Russian scientist Vernandsky’s point of view on the issue lies closest to the truth, as far as I’m concerned. By the way, he visualized the basics of his noosphere theory while going through a bout of delirium during his typhus fever in Yalta. He believed that the nonmaterial part of a human being joins certain noosphere after death of the body. The noosphere somehow exerts influence on the living. I wouldn’t say that the intellectual powers of the mind are born along with man. Something is injected from the outside…
It’s hard to tell whether the writers were really able to have premonitions of the circumstances of their death. However, I had an accident while on my fifth year in a medical school. My head was seriously injured. I spent 21 days in a state of unconsciousness. Having recovered, I found out that I developed some rather unusual abilities – I could read somebody else’s mind and foretell some future events. Well, my extraordinary talents didn’t last long, they faded away in one year. Aside from those mystical short-lived powers, I also acquired the ability to act in a relaxed way. And I can still use that ability for my own benefit.
Something “material”, a physical injury in my case, can have an impact on the “ideal”, that is to say a person’s abilities and character. On the other hand, the “ideal” can influence the “material” too. There are a number of systems of disciplined physical and mental activities such as yoga, which can change something in the body. The powers of the mind can reduce the size of a scar on the skin, for example. However, things that happen to a person’s mind shortly before the lights go down are likely to remain a mystery for years to come.”
Translated by Guerman Grachev