Examples of dead/dying characters listing all the things they'll miss
March 28, 2014 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to think of more examples of this particular moment: a character who is dying, or thinking of death, or speaking from beyond the grave, gives a list or inventory of the everyday things they remember and appreciate about being alive. A few examples inside.

Three examples:

1. Thornton Wilder, Our Town. Emily is dead and says: "Good-bye world...Good-bye to clocks ticking...and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?"

2. Wim Wenders, Wings of Desire. The inner monologue of the dying accident victim: "The Far East. The Great North. The Wild West. The Great Bear Lake. Tristan da Cunha. The Mississippi Delta. Stromboli. The old houses of Charlottenburg. Albert Camus. The morning light. The child's eyes. The swim in the waterfall. The spots of the first drops of rain. The sun. The bread and wine. Hopping. Easter. The veins of leaves. The blowing grass. The color of stones. The pebbles on the stream's bed. The white tablecloth outdoors. The dream of the house in the house. The dear one asleep in the next room. The peaceful Sundays. The horizon. The light from the room in the garden. The night flight. Riding a bicycle with no hands. The beautiful stranger. My father. My mother. My wife. My child."

3. Alan Ball, American Beauty: "lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars...and yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street...or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper...and the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird...and Janie...and Janie...and...Carolyn."

Any other examples you can point me to, whether lyrical or maudlin, are welcome! If there's a relevant passage that's from a poem or nonfiction, that would be great too. And if there's a NAME for this kind of monologue/trope, please share.
posted by Beardman to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The Lovely Bones is basically an entire book about this.
posted by quincunx at 12:32 PM on March 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ha ha there is a great scene in Countdown City in which people are listing all the things they'll miss when the giant meteor hits Earth and they all die.

“The Boston Patriots,” bellows the guy. “The US Open. Outback Steakhouse.” Appreciative laughter; a few cheers. This has been going on for a few weeks now, someone’s bright idea that caught on: people taking turns, waiting patiently, a nonstop recitation of the things we will miss about the world…. “Ping-pong. Starbucks,” the speaker says...”Those big tins of popcorn you get at Christmas.”

I am aware of a sarcastic counterdemonstration being held on and off in a basement bar…There, people announce in mock solemnity all the things they will not miss: Customer-service representatives. Income taxes. The Internet.
posted by janey47 at 12:40 PM on March 28, 2014

Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean: "You know the first thing I'm going to do after the curse is lifted? Eat a whole bushel of apples."
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:45 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

"The moonlight shows us for what we really are! We are not among the living and so we cannot die--but neither are we dead! We have all the desires of the living, but cannot satisfy them! Ten years I have been parched of thirst, and unable to quench it! Ten years, I have been starving to death--and haven't died! And I have not felt anything for ten years... Not the wind on my face, nor the spray of the sea... nor the flesh of a woman ..."
--Hector Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:45 PM on March 28, 2014

Pistols at dawn, MrMoonPie!
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:46 PM on March 28, 2014

Sam and Frodo on Mount Doom, I think, in The Return if the King.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:50 PM on March 28, 2014

The character isn't dying, but Woody Allen does a bit on "things that make life worth living" in Manhattan: "Ooh, I would say Groucho Marx, to name one thing. And Willie Mays. And... the second movementof the Jupiter Symphony. And... Louis Armstrong's recording of Potato Head Blues. Swedish movies, naturally. Sentimental Education by Flaubert. Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra. Those incredible apples and pears by Cezanne. The crabs at Sam Wo's. Tracy's face."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:55 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Neil Gaiman's American Gods has some of this. This was the fastest quote I could find, but I think she* mentions breathing, smoking cigarettes, and a few other things in that same scene. [*Edit: this character is dead, in case that's not obvious.]
posted by salvia at 12:58 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not so much things she'd miss, but things she'd wish she'd known... Kathleen Edwards' song Alicia Ross:
Inside of this moment there are
Things I wish I could know
Like my ring size, your ring size,
And the hour I was born
My dad's middle name, your favourite song
Was your darkest day as dark as this one?
Alicia Ross was a young woman who disappeared outside of Toronto in 2005.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:02 PM on March 28, 2014

I am reading Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin right now. A dead girl's list is:
-Bagels and Lox with her parents and brother
-The Feeling that Something Good Might Be Right Around the Corner
-Various Smells and examples of the way her family members smell
-Her pocket watch

This is by the suggestion of another character and they say that making it a list of people is not the point. However, three of her items are very much about people, including the pocket watch which is a family heirloom.
posted by soelo at 1:02 PM on March 28, 2014

Since you mentioned nonfiction . . .
Nora Ephron, What I Won't Miss / What I Will Miss
posted by Signed Sealed Delivered at 1:05 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Though fictional, I would never miss an opportunity to post:

"I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe... [contemptuous laugh] Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those... moments... will be lost in time, like [small cough] tears... in... rain. Time... to die..."

(Blade Runner)
posted by Debaser626 at 1:13 PM on March 28, 2014

Sounds like the Jacques Brel song "Le Dernier Repas (The Last Supper)."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:20 PM on March 28, 2014

Best answer: Donald Hall's poems about Jane Kenyon's last days. There's a section in (well, duh) "Last Days" that fits the bill, I think. I read some of "Without" like that too (scroll down past the interview for the poem). Kenyon's own "Otherwise" probably fits as well.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:26 PM on March 28, 2014

Best answer: The end of Lytton Strachey's magnificent biography of Queen Victoria (full text available here):
When, two days previously, the news of the approaching end had been made public, astonished grief had swept over the country. It appeared as if some monstrous reversal of the course of nature was about to take place. The vast majority of her subjects had never known a time when Queen Victoria had not been reigning over them. She had become an indissoluble part of their whole scheme of things, and that they were about to lose her appeared a scarcely possible thought. She herself, as she lay blind and silent, seemed to those who watched her to be divested of all thinking—to have glided already, unawares, into oblivion. Yet, perhaps, in the secret chambers of consciousness, she had her thoughts, too. Perhaps her fading mind called up once more the shadows of the past to float before it, and retraced, for the last time, the vanished visions of that long history—passing back and back, through the cloud of years, to older and ever older memories—to the spring woods at Osborne, so full of primroses for Lord Beaconsfield—to Lord Palmerston's queer clothes and high demeanour, and Albert's face under the green lamp, and Albert's first stag at Balmoral, and Albert in his blue and silver uniform, and the Baron coming in through a doorway, and Lord M. dreaming at Windsor with the rooks cawing in the elm-trees, and the Archbishop of Canterbury on his knees in the dawn, and the old King's turkey-cock ejaculations, and Uncle Leopold's soft voice at Claremont, and Lehzen with the globes, and her mother's feathers sweeping down towards her, and a great old repeater-watch of her father's in its tortoise-shell case, and a yellow rug, and some friendly flounces of sprigged muslin, and the trees and the grass at Kensington.
posted by chinston at 2:24 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

great question. looking forward to more answers...reminds me of the closing scene in Garp:

T. S. Garp: Remember, Helen.
Helen Holm: What, my love?
T. S. Garp: Everything.

I always thought that the angel, with his touch, gently steered the motorcycle rider's thoughts away from his predicament to ease his passing, which I guess, could be the same thing, but a little less volitional.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:28 PM on March 28, 2014

In the Anslo Garrick episode of The Blacklist, two people are trapped in a sealed room and Red says this monologue to the other, who is critically wounded.
posted by cali59 at 4:25 PM on March 28, 2014

Best answer: There's a bit in Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas where drowned sailors talk to their old captain from beyond the watery grave:


Remember me, Captain?


You're Dancing Williams!


I lost my step in Nantucket.


Do you see me, Captain? the white bone talking? I'm Tom-Fred
the donkeyman...we shared the same girl once...her name was
Mrs Probert...


Rosie Probert, thirty three Duck Lane. Come on up, boys,
I'm dead.


Hold me, Captain, I'm Jonah Jarvis, come to a bad end, very


Alfred Pomeroy Jones, sea-lawyer, born in Mumbles, sung
like a linnet, crowned you with a flagon, tattooed with
mermaids, thirst like a dredger, died of blisters.


This skull at your earhole is


Curly Bevan. Tell my auntie it was me that pawned he ormolu


Aye, aye, Curly.


Tell my missus no I never


I never done what she said I never.


Yes they did.


And who brings coconuts and shawls and parrots to _my_
Gwen now?


How's it above?


Is there rum and laverbread?


Bosoms and robins?




Ebenezer's bell?


Fighting and onions?


And sparrows and daisies?


Tiddlers in a jamjar?


Buttermilk and whippets?


Rock-a-bye baby?


Washing on the line?


And old girls in the snug?


How's the tenors in Dowlais?


Who milks the cows in Maesgwyn?


When she smiles, is there dimples?


What's the smell of parsley?


Oh, my dead dears!
posted by Ted Maul at 5:39 PM on March 28, 2014

In the opening scene of City of Angels (the remake, anyway--I haven't seen the original), a little boy says that footie pajamas were his favourite thing. There are a few other instances: the angel asks everyone what their favourite thing was.
posted by Edna Million at 9:07 PM on March 28, 2014

So funny, my first thought on seeing your question was dialog from Wings Of Desire. And then I come into the thread and see that you've dialog from that same flick. What came immediately to my mind is when Damiel is considering leaving existence as an angel, he and Cassiel talking of what they would like to experience in human existence, rather than observing humanity in the loving yet detached way of angels:

Damiel: No, I don't have to beget a child or plant a tree but it would be rather nice coming home after a long day to feed the cat, like Philip Marlowe, to have a fever and blackended fingers from the newspaper, to be excited not only by the mind but, at last, by a meal, by the line of a neck by an ear. To lie! Through one's teeth! As you're walking, to feel your bones moving along. At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say "ah" and "oh" and "hey" instead of "yea" and "amen."
Cassiel: Yeah, to be able, once in a while, to enthuse for evil. To draw all the demons of the earth from passers-by and to chase them out into the world. To be a savage.
Damiel: Or at last to feel how it is to take off shoes under a table and wriggle your toes barefoot, like that.

What came strongest to me is Damiel stating with such conviction how great it would be "To lie! Through ones teeth!" Such great acting, Bruno Ganz just absolutely nailing that, he looked so enthused, so happy at the thought of lying with conviction.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:14 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Spring is in the air. Pretty girls are everywhere. I would list more lyrics but I can't stand to listen to it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:23 AM on March 29, 2014

It's not a character explicitly saying so in dying, but Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass has a great deal of this inventorying of Reasons Being a Human on Earth is Great throughout.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:22 PM on March 29, 2014

This isn't necessarily a character reciting things they'll miss, but the tone might be similar to what you're looking for: The Things They Carried by Tim O'brien has the narrator loop back over and over to the things his characters are carrying on patrol in Vietnam. It's a powerful book, and worth checking out.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:18 AM on March 30, 2014

« Older Already Ate It Filter: Undercooked chicken edition   |   Sock it to me! Seeking good quality men's socks Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.