Words to Live & Die By

Quotations and passages on death and dying, life and living, here for insight, perspective, comfort.

“I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin… I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.” — Willa Cather in My Antonia (1918)

“There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life.” — Federico Fellini

“Every time I think that I’m getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.” — Lillian Carter

“You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live. Now.” — Joan Baez

“May all your dreams come true, You can, indeed, have it all.” — Mary Kay Ash

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. However, there’s one thing that we do know. Man is here for the sake of other men, above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends. And also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy.” — Albert Einstein, quoted by Chris in an episode of Northern Exposure

“We are all mortal. This is time’s deepest meaning in the novel as it is to us alive. Fiction shows us the past as well as the present moment in mortal light.” — Eudora Welty

“Maybe death is the great equalizer, the one big thing that can finally make strangers shed a tear for one another.” — Mitch Albom in Tuesdays with Morrie (1997)

“I can say that I did it all. The secret though is just keep walking through life without analyzing it too much or clinging to it too much. Just walk on.” — Marilyn Silverstone, photographer and Buddhist nun, d. 1999

“As for my part, I care not for death; for all men are mortal, and though I be a mortal, yet I have as good a courage answerable to my place as ever my father had. I am your anointed Queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything. I thank God I am endued with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat, I were able to live in any place in Christendom.” — Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation; and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.” — John Donne, Meditation XVII, “Devotions on Emergent Occasions” (1624)

“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, we should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightening, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand foot cliffs, dying of disease, or committing sepuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.” — From Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai, read aloud by Forrest Whitaker in Ghost Dog

“Every day above ground is a special day.” — Sara Pezzini in Witchblade

“He is useless on top of the ground; he ought to be under it, inspiring the cabbages.” — Mark Twain in Pudd’nhead Wilson

“Sure enough, I’ve been through a lot. But so what? I thank God for my life.” — Mabel King (1995)

“I’m not entirely enamored of the idea of living forever.” — Edward Gorey (1994)

“Since the day of my birth, my death began its walk. It is walking toward me, without hurrying.” — Jean Cocteau

“I wanted people to walk in and drop dead.” — Morris Lapidus, architect, speaking of his celebrated hotel lobbies

“Because I actively enjoy sleeping, dreams, the unexplainable dialogues that take place in my head as I am drifting off, all that, I tell myself that lying down to an afternoon nap that goes on and on through eternity is not something to be concerned about. What spoils this pleasant fantasy is the recollection that when people are dead, they don’t read books.” — William Maxwell, New York Times Magazine (March 1997)

“We must die. But must we die groaning?” — Epictetus

“I feel no pain dear mother now, But oh, I am so dry! O take me to a brewery, And leave me there to die.” — Anonymous (19th century)

“May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” — Irish toast

“Death is not the end. There remains litigation over the estate.” — Ambrose Bierce

“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” — Dumbledore, a wizard, to Harry, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997) by J. K. Rowling

“I look upon life as a gift from God. I did nothing to earn it. Now the time is coming to give it back, I have no right to complain.” — Joyce Cary

“Death will be a great relief. No more interviews.” — Katherine Hepburn

“A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.” — Steward Alsop

“When you’re dead, you’re dead. And no baking powder or soda will make you rise no more.” — Buddy Moss, Atlanta blues legend

“Death seems to provide the minds of the Anglo-Saxon race with a greater fund of innocent amusement than any other single subject.” — Dorothy Sayers (1935)

“Fans don’t want to see death, they want to see came-so-close-to-death-but-walked-away.” — Al Hoff, “NASCAR!” (1999)

“I don’t want anyone to die. It may be good for the buy rate, but I don’t want anyone to die.” — Campbell McLaren, promoter of “The Ultimate Fighting Championship II”

“Nothing in life is so exhilarating than to be shot at without result.” — Winston Churchill

“Every heart that has beat strong and cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in the world, and bettered the tradition of mankind.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

“I stay young by being a bit naughty and not being too holy.” — Kathleen Hale at age 95

“When we are ill, we need not close in on ourselves, or remove ourselves from others.” — Cardinal Joseph Bernardin

“Our society views dying as being in questionable taste despite the fact that ten out of ten still do it.” — Howard Gossage

“One owes respect to the living. To the dead, one owes only truth.” — Voltaire

“Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.” — W. Somerset Maugham

“There is nothing deader than a dead Buick.” — Jean Shepherd, in “County Fair!”

“It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” — Woody Allen

“We continue to share with our ancestors the most tangled and evasive attitudes about death, despite the great distance we have come in understanding some of the profound aspects of biology. We have as much distaste for talking about personal death as for thinking about it; it is an indelicacy.” — Lewis Thomas

“Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.” — Hector Berlioz

“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” — Isaac Asimov

“Death, to me, has always been the last word in people having fun without you.” — Eve Babitz

“I can’t forgive my friends for dying; I don’t find these vanishing acts of theirs at all amusing.” — Logan Pearsall Smith

“Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind. Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.” — Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” — Jorge Luis Borges

“It’s like the cycle of life. It grows, it breaks up, falls down, and then starts all over again.” — Craven Walker, describing his invention, the lava lamp.

“Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.” — W.H. Auden

“Let me ride on the Wall of Death one more time. You can waste your time on the other rides but this is the nearest to being alive. O let me take my chances on the Wall of Death.” — Richard Thompson, “Wall of Death” from Shoot Out the Lights

“Some vital impulse spared my needing to reiterate the world’s most frequent and pointless question in the face of disaster — Why? Why me? I never asked it; the only answer is, of course, Why not?” — Reynolds Price

“Why me? Why not? I never expected to live this long anyway, so it’s uncharted territory.” — Dusty Springfield

“Time goes, you say? Ah no! Alas, Time stays. We go.” — Henry Austin Dobson

“When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.” — Henry David Thoreau

“A man should not fear death; he should fear never beginning to live.” — Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius

“I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived.” — Willa Cather

“Vida sin amigo, muerte sin testigo.” — Spanish proverb (“Live without a friend, die without a witness.”)

“Dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive.” — Gilda Radner

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’ ” — Erma Bombeck

“I’m using everything I’ve got to live my life the best I can.When people think about that, it makes them think about themselves, and some of them see how much better they can live their own lives. That’s why I do what I do. Maybe that’s my main purpose for being here.” — Angel Wallenda, on walking the high wire with an artificial limb.

“I rejoice in it, I love it. If it weren’t for death, life would be unbearable.” — Malcolm Muggeridge

“All animals will go to heaven and hell, including sheep. Anybody who thinks there won’t be sheep and cobras and hyenas in hell is due for a shock.” — Hunter S. Thompson

“I never expected to be here this long. I planned from early on to die at the age of 27, actually planned it. Most of the people who knew me were betting on 22. So everything after that’s been kind of a shock.” — Hunter S. Thompson, The Washington Post (August 23, 1994)

Two days later…

“Man, I don’t know how long I’m gonna live. I was Number One on the death list for 20 years.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stone (August 25, 1994)

“Everybody thinks about death sometimes… You ain’t gonna be here forever. You gotta die someday — that’s gonna happen for sure. And whether you come back, I don’t know. Some people say you come back; I dunno. I don’t know nobody who’s come back… And whether there’s another world, we don’t know. So just live for as long as you can, enjoy life, enjoy the pretty women in the world. Just live and let live. And love people. There’s some good in everybody.” — John Lee Hooker, Rolling Stone (May 28, 1998)

“In fairness to all sides, I must admit that prudence was not my specialty.” — Marie, Queen of Rumania

“You only live once, and the way I live, once is enough.” — Frank Sinatra

“Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.” — William Shakespeare

“Death is Nature’s remedy for all things.” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“Death solves all problems. No man, no problem.” — Joseph Stalin

“He’s gonna die because he refused to come in when I called. He didn’t do nothing else wrong.” — John Gotti

“All of life is six to five against.” — Damon Runyan

“Death is something that we all contend with and that, to say the least, we’re all interested in. I think that what Osborn was saying is that we really must look at death as a natural process. People, unlike animals, are cursed with the knowledge of death, so we have to find ways to face what we have to face. It’s a very serious business, and it’s nice if you can make it pleasant.” — George C. Scott, while rehearsing Paul Osborn’s 1938 play, On Borrowed Time, in which, Death, known as “Mr. Brink,” is trapped up in a tree and no one can die.

“When I die I want to decompose in a barrel of porter and have it served in all the pubs in Dublin.” — J. P. Donleavy

“In the end, everything is a gag.” — Charlie Chaplin

“Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.” — Martin Luther

“Everything has been figured out, except how to live.” — Jean-Paul Sartre

“When the body sinks into death, the essence of man is revealed. Man is a knot, a web, a mesh into which relationships are tied. Only those relationships matter. The body is an old crock that nobody will miss. I have never known a man to think of himself when dying. Never.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Death is the ultimate negative patient health outcome.” — William L. Roper, Director of the Health Care Financing Administration

“If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error.” — John Kenneth Galbraith

“Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies.” — From the Internet (1996)

“I’ve always been worried about my damn soul. Maybe I worry too much. But you carry in one hand a bundle of darkness that accumulates each day. And when death finally comes, you say right away, ‘Hey, buddy, glad to see ya!’ ” — Henry Bukowski

“It’s beautiful being single and this is the way I’m going to remain. I’ve been married three times and I’m a three-time widower. All them suckas are gone. And they say you’re not supposed to say anything about your husband when he’s dead, unless it’s good, so I’m saying all my husbands is dead… good.” — LaWanda Page

“What I look forward to is continued immaturity followed by death.” — Dave Barry

“Once you go over that event horizon, no messages can be passed back. It represents a limit case in the thermodynamics of information.” — Terence McKenna

“Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” — Susan Ertz

“I have lost friends, some by death, others through sheer inability to cross the street.” — Virginia Woolf

“I’ve lost many, many friends through natural causes, through alcohol, through drugs, through AIDS. And every time I lose a friend or a loved one, it reminds me how great life is.” — Patti Smith

“There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.” — George Santayana

“Do the things that make you happy, and don’t do the things that don’t.” — E. Jean Carroll

“Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.” — Henry David Thoreau

“You just can’t get through life without a sense of humor these days. The most awful things can be really funny. You have to be able to laugh or it gets too depressing.” — Margo Kaufman (1993, after learning her cancer had spread)

“Often the true test of courage is not to die but to live.” — Count Vittorio Alfieri

“We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.” — Anne Lamott

“I like to live each day like an adventure.” — Diana Golden Brosnihan

“No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office.” — Anna Quindlen in A Short Guide to a Happy Life (2000)

“Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds.” — Buddha


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