“A dying man can do nothing easy.” — Benjamin Franklin on his deathbed, April 17, 1790
Final exits are satisfying in literature and film. They are moments of revelation, betrayal, sadness or wit. Sometimes the dying person has a chance to say a few bon mots or a teary goodbye. Often mysteries are resolved or in the case of the word, “Rosebud,” in Citizen Kane, launched. Death propels the action, giving impetus to other characters that may have been stalled. Death illuminates the life of the character that has passed, adding poignancy. Death is meaningful, and possesses a great sense of dramatic timing.
In real life, death scenes usually suck. They either drag out, or the person dies so quickly that there is no chance for goodbyes. In real life, death does not have good dramatic timing. Having been present at a number of death beds, dying is often more about waiting than wisdom. Good exit lines are rare, which is why I will always treasure the final words of Oscar Wilde: “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
As I am currently on death watch for another relative, I am taking solace in fiction. Fiction has a gift for making sense of the senseless, and I think that I really need that. This week I’ve been rereading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman #8 and some of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Both feature Death as a main character, though the two representations of Death are very different. Gaiman’s Death is a perky girl Goth, in love with life and the living. Pratchett’s Death is skeletal and wields a scythe, but has a wonderfully dry sense of humor and strong relationships. In both representations, Death has human moments, and cares deeply about the people he or she takes. I find comfort in both visions.
Thinking about this has made me wonder if any of you out there have a favorite fictional death scene that you want to share. What made it meaningful and memorable to you?
The floor is open.