“OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.”

Those are the last words of Steve Jobs, as reported by his sister, Mona Simpson, in a lovely remembrance in yesterday’s New York Times, “A sister’s eulogy for Steve Jobs.”  I’m fascinated with last words, and with the last meals of condemned prisoners—I suppose it’s because I want to know how people are dealing with imminent death.

None of us knows for certain how long we’ll be here. On Steve’s better days, even in the last year, he embarked upon projects and elicited promises from his friends at Apple to finish them. Some boat builders in the Netherlands have a gorgeous stainless steel hull ready to be covered with the finishing wood. His three daughters remain unmarried, his two youngest still girls, and he’d wanted to walk them down the aisle as he’d walked me the day of my wedding.

We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories.

And Jobs’s last days, described in detail, are very moving.

I suppose it’s not quite accurate to call the death of someone who lived with cancer for years unexpected, but Steve’s death was unexpected for us.

41 Comments

  1. Posted October 31, 2011 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    In my less cynical youth it surprised & puzzled me that medically trained people would take part in executions

    • Bruce Springsteen
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      When it comes to human hypocrisy, I am ever-the-less surprised, but still always appalled.

  2. Teemo
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    This is where I make farting noises and ask when are we moving on from this, and then half-apologize for being so crass.

  3. daveau
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    So, no deathbed conversion to atheism?

  4. ManOutOfTime
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    On the other hand, Steve Jobs’s life was “unexpected” – ultimately, everyone’s is. So what else would one expect?

  5. Hempenstein
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    I like Geo V’s last words, particularly given what prompted them. From Wikipedia:

    By 20 January, he was close to death. His physicians, led by Lord Dawson of Penn, issued a bulletin with words that became famous: “The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close.”[75] Dawson’s private diary, unearthed after his death, reveals that the King’s last words, a mumbled “God damn you!”,[76] were addressed to his nurse when she gave him a sedative on the night of 20 January. Dawson wrote that he hastened the King’s end by giving him a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine, both to prevent further strain on the family and so that the King’s death at 11:55 pm could be announced in the morning edition of The Times newspaper rather than “less appropriate … evening journals”.[76][77]

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Oh wow, now that’s cynical!

    • Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      They breed ’em like corgies and they put’em down like corgies.

      Weren’t Geo V’s last words supposed to have been “Bugger Bognor!”

  6. Dominic
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    The greatest has to be your own Union General John Sedgwick “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”

    Also the curious ramblings of Dutch Schulz –
    http://feastofhateandfear.com/archives/dutch.html
    Very very strange.

  7. anon
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    How come when someone is alive it is blatantly obvious that they were kind of a dick and not really ‘all that and a bag of potato chips’, but then they die and suddenly they were the greatest contribution to humanity ever. EVER.

    Seriously confused.

    • daveau
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      You’re talking about Jesus, right?

    • Ray Moscow
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      This reminds me of how much I’m looking forward to reading Dick Cheney’s last words.

      And laughing.

    • Posted October 31, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

      “We really make kids in China kill themselves? Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow! Gak!”

  8. Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I too am fascinated with last words, especially as reported in nineteenth-century novels:

    “They stood around her bedside, not speaking, or sighing, or moaning; they were too much awed by the exquisite peacefulness of her look for that. Suddenly she opened wide her eyes, and gazed intently forwards, as if she saw some happy vision, which called out a lovely, rapturous, breathless smile. They held their very breaths.

    “I see the Light coming,” said she. “The Light is coming,” she said. And, raising herself slowly, she stretched out her arms, and then fell back, very still for evermore.”

    Ruth (1853) by Elizabeth Gaskell

    Note: According to the NYT’s article, “Mona Simpson is a novelist and a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles.”

    • Dominic
      Posted November 1, 2011 at 3:31 am | Permalink

      Dead! And never called me ‘mother’!

  9. Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    The last words of Turner, the great proto-impressionist: “The sun, the sun is god.”

  10. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    My fave is Moliere. “I’m going to the great perhaps.”

    L

  11. Posted October 31, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’v always loved the story of Paganini’s last “words”. As legend has it, he picked up his violin, played one last achingly beautiful, melancholy tune, slumped back, dropped the violin and bow, and died. He also refused the sacrament; some say because he didn’t think he was going to die, others because he was an unbeliever. Either way, his refusal meant that the church refused to bury him, and the story is that his family kept his body in the basement for several years before the church relented and gave him a quote-unquote *proper* burial. What a beautiful exit!

  12. Posted October 31, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, KB:

    Although Nelson did say “Kiss me, Hardy” (nor “Kismet, Hardy”) to his Flag Captain, they were not his final words. According to Victory’s Surgeon William Beatty, Nelson’s last words were:

    “Thank God, I have done my duty. Drink, drink. Fan, fan. Rub, rub”

    I have fondly imagined for years that Nelson said “Kismet, Hardy” only for Hardy to misunderstand & plant him a big kiss ~ resulting in Nelson dying from an outrage-induced heart attack rather than a French marine sniper bullet. Oh well…

  13. Posted October 31, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a website that has the last words of famous people.

    http://www.corsinet.com/braincandy/dying.html

    Here are two good ones:

    I am not the least afraid to die.
    ~~ Charles Darwin, d. April 19, 1882

    Damn it . . . Don’t you dare ask God to help me.
    To her housekeeper, who had begun to pray aloud.
    ~~ Joan Crawford, actress, d. May 10, 1977

  14. Bob
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I want to ask her if she was sure he didn’t say, “Ow ow ow ow”.

    • Linda
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      I totally wondered the same thing! I think he most likely said, “Ow, ow. Ow, ow!” but his sister heard what she wanted to hear. She has a great imagination, as do all who think final words express the view of white light crap at the end of the tunnel and all that other heavenly baloney.
      Give us a break. Jobs was wacky but not that wacky.

  15. JBlilie
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Got the Isaacson book. Haven’t started it yet (reading Pinker.)

  16. JBlilie
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    One of my favorite musicians over many years is Bruce Cockburn.

    (If you haven’t listened to his Dancing In the Dragon’s Jaws, The Charity of Night, Stealing Fire, Breakfast In New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu, and World of Wonders along with any of his live albums, you should give him s listen. He also has the most interesting Christmas album I’ve ever heard (that genre being so generally dire).)

    Anyhow, he’s apparently a serious Christian (nobody’s perfect). And there’s a new book coming out soon about exactly that: Why he’s a serious Christian: Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination

    I’ve pre-ordered it. I’m curious what he has to say, although every “Christian” book I’ve every read has been quite bad.

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      How’s that for OT?!

      • Posted October 31, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        Not that bad – Cockburn’s Festival of Friends (from the 1976 album In the Falling Dark) is all about death and afterlife.

        • JBlilie
          Posted November 1, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

          Yeah, he writes a lot about death, seems to me. Mainly his outrage at the treatment of many people around the world (e.g. Stealing Fire).

          I’ve been a guitar player for quite a while, I had been trying to locate his first published book of sheet music All the Diamonds. I (and I’m sure many others) have been bugging the publisher (Ottawa Folklore Center) for a long time to re-issue it. (You can buy an original (circa 1979) on Amazon for a mere $450, to steep for me!)

          Well, lo and behold, OFC has re-issued All the Diamonds! Look at their site a get a copy! Just got mine and it appears to be an exact reprint of the original. Yahoo!

    • Posted November 1, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Cockburn’s Christianity has not, on the whole, been terribly orthodox. He had a brief stint as an evangelical folk music hero in the 70s, but that faded after his divorce and subsequent serial girlfriends. And he has never been “Christian artist” so much as an artist who happens to have a certain POV that motivates and informs his art. The book sounds interesting.

  17. Jimbo
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    This story really moved me. People often ask what person, past or present, would you want to have dinner with? Until recently, I’ve never really had a hero or a person that I felt moved by to the point of wanting to meet them personally (as opposed to just seeing/reading their work).

    I have an answer now:
    Christopher Hitchens and Steve Jobs.

    I’ve grown distaught after Jobs’ death and Hitch is closing in right behind him. Though a childish sentiment, I desperately don’t want my heroes to abandon me.

    • Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      My bookshelves groan under the weight of Hitch & his kind ~ no need to feel abandoned. After we are all of us dust the words will continue.

      • Jimbo
        Posted October 31, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        I would simply say this: listening to someone is often better than reading. One of the things I admire so much about Hitch and Jobs is the power of their oratory because great speaking is so rare these days! They construct their own talking points (no Obama speechwriters) and deliver powerful ideas without even using Powerpoint.

        I will miss hearing them and listening to them, because I can always read what they’ve written.

  18. DV
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Steve Jobs said he was going to a better place???

  19. David Ratnasabapathy
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I think the “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow” story’s meant to suggest that Jobs was seeing the future, seeing his three children, the milestones he wouldn’t share.

    Which is unfortunate because she, who throughout her story describes his strength, is saying that he broke at last and died gibbering.

    • Posted October 31, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      That is your subjective interpretation of his words. But you don’t know that at all.

      It’s unlikely that everybody experiences the same things when dying, it is most likely highly dependent on on what causes the death.

      It is possible that those words indicated a brain that was malfunctioning. But it could equally have been surprise at experiencing his body starting to fail terminally. Or possibly none of those is correct.

      • David Ratnasabapathy
        Posted November 1, 2011 at 1:13 am | Permalink

        Actually, I don’t think he actually said those words, because they fit too neatly into his sister’s story. Real life is more complex.

        If you read the article you can see that his sister is interpreting those words to suggest that death is not an ending, that his soul escaped into godhood. My beef is that in doing so she’s really saying the poor guy went insane at the end.

        • Greg Albright
          Posted November 3, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

          I don’t think so. When my step-father had his death rattle, he got up out of bed, sat in a chair next to the window and said “I want to go for a walk”, we then helped him back to bed, and he went to sleep, and died the next day.

          My mom and sister thinks he was talking about some sort of heavenly “walk” or something like that. I think we was looking at that park outside the window of the hospice center, and genuinely wanted to go outside and walk around, but his body simply wouldn’t let him.

  20. Diane G.
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    (subscribing)

  21. Dominic
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    William Pitt the Younger – “I think I could eat one of Bellamy’s veal pies.”

  22. InfiniteImprobabilit
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    My favourite’s gotta be Oscar Wilde – “Either that wallpaper goes or I do”. Truly in character.


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