~ Introduction ~
When [swans] perceive approaching death they sing more merrily than before, because of the joy they have in going to the God whose servants they are. Though indeed mankind, because of their own fear of death, malign the swans, and say that they sing their farewell song in distress, lamenting their death; they don’t reflect that no bird sings when it is hungry or cold or suffering any other distress.
- Socrates (qtd. in Plato, Phaedo)
Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body. Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of the million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.
- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying
The motif of storying by the dying recurs from the earliest known cultural mythologies and literature to the present day. King Gilgamesh, for instance, suffers the loss of his best friend Enkidu in an ancient Sumerian story inscribed in clay sometime between 2750 and 2500 BCE (Tablet VII). As Enkidu approaches his death, Gilgamesh sits by his side and listens to the narration of his friend. In ancient religious literature, the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy is traditionally understood to be composed of stories told by Moses to the Israelites after God had informed him that he would die without ever setting foot in the Promised Land (Num. 27.13). In more modern times, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy, is one of literature's great examples of a man storying towards his death.