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Face Death With Dignity / Real Life

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  • There is an old saying: "If you have to die, at least do it with some dignity"
  • The White Rose was a non-violent/intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany, consisting of students from the University of Munich and their philosophy professor. The group became known for an anonymous leaflet campaign, lasting from June 1942 until February 1943, that called for active opposition to dictator Adolf Hitler's regime. The six core members of the group were arrested by the Gestapo and they were executed by decapitation in 1943. Sophie Scholl's last words (aged only 21) were:
    "How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?"
  • French King and Queen:
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    • Marie Antoinette. Her last words were, "Pardon me sir, I did not mean to do it," to her executioner after she accidentally stepped on his foot as she ascended the scaffold.
    • Louis XVI, died with dignity. As he was already on the scaffold he declared he pardoned those responsible for his death, before proclaiming himself innocent and praying his blood wouldn't fall back on France. His executioner himself would later testify he had died "with a composure and a firmness which has surprised us all".
  • How defeated Romans were supposed to die. Many did.
    • Julius Caesar pulled his toga over his face as he lay on the floor of Pompey's Theater.
    • In the resulting civil wars when Mark Antony sent assassins to execute Cicero, they caught up with him before he could escape, the pro-Senate faction was losing, he was already an old man, and he realized all was lost. Therefore when they arrived Cicero made no desperate last attempt to run, but calmly said to his assassin: "There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly". He then willingly bent his head down and presented his neck, a gladiatorial gesture that he would not resist being beheaded. Unfortunately, his assassin did not return his gracious gesture: he stabbed him to death first so he would suffer, then beheaded him.
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  • The sinking of RMS Titanic provides a whole wealth of examples. For a comprehensive list, see the Useful Notes page for Titanic.
  • When the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sank in 1915, wealthy businessman Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt gave up his life jacket to a woman with a baby, and was last seen buckling her into it. He did this knowing that he could not swim and would surely die.
  • This was one reason Charles I attracted such acclaim after his execution, with the pamphlets that came out almost immediately only increasing the effect. He was mostly unimpressive physically and mentally unexceptional, and he had a perpetual nervous stammer. Until, that is, his trial, where he conducted himself with more assurance and dignity his opponents had expected and lost his stammer, and on his execution day met his fate stoically, even asking for an extra shirt so that people would not mistake his shivering at the cold for fear.
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  • Emperor Maximilian of Mexico pulled this trope off as well. After refusing to flee his adopted country with the retreating French, knowing full well that he'd be captured and probably executed by the Republicans, Maximilian's last words were a public forgiveness of his executioners and the cry of "Viva Mexico, viva la independencia!" The two generals executed with him also got in on this, shouting "Long live the Emperor!" before being shot.
  • In the Salem Witch Trials, Giles Corey was tortured for not offering a plea before his trial for witchcraft. English law at the time determined that a person could not be tried if they did not enter a plea, so they began pressing him (stacking stones onto his body) to get a plea out of him. Every time they asked, he simply responded "more weight." This went on for two days without, according to reports, him uttering a single pained sound. Finally he cried out "More weight!" and died. Since he couldn't be found guilty, his entire estate passed on to his sons rather than being seized by the government.
  • Nathan Hale. While "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country" might be apocryphal, all involved in his hanging reported that he said something awesome before he died.
  • John Andrè, a British soldier and agent who served as Benedict Arnold's contact as he prepared to join the Loyalists and who was also sentenced to death for spying when caught by the Continentals. Although his request to be executed by firing squad was denied, all present at his execution agreed he conducted himself with gentlemanly conduct, refusing a blindfold and placing the noose around his neck himself. When compared to Benedict Arnold, most Americans agreed that the wrong man had been executed.
  • Marshal Michel Ney, 1st Duke of Elchinger and 1st Prince of Moscow, who was sentenced to death at the end of The Napoleonic Wars, requested to command his own firing squad. His last order: "Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her ... Soldiers, Fire!"
  • Marshal Joachim Murat, condemned to the same fate as Ney and allowed the same privilege to command his own firing squad, demonstrated his reputation as both a flamboyant dandy and a man flippant in the face of danger when he said on the occasion, "Soldiers! Do your duty! Straight to the heart (beat) but spare the face. Fire!"
  • Admiral John Byng, who faced a probably undeserved You Have Failed Me from King George II, was noted for his great dignity as he knelt on his own quarterdeck and was shot.
  • Lawrence "Titus" Oates, a polar explorer on Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, was suffering from illness and realized that he was slowing his companions down. In hopes of saving their lives by allowing them to travel faster and reach the next food depot, he walked off into the Antarctic storm to his death, saying, "I am just going outside and may be some time." Though his companions later froze to death, Oates' actions were recorded in Scott's diary and he has since been held up as a paragon of personal sacrifice and dignity in death.
  • Women from Samurai clans would sometimes kill themselves (by slitting their throats, in a somewhat lighter version of Seppuku known as jigai), if defeated (usually to prevent being raped by the enemy). They would tie their legs together so as not to convulse into an undignified spread-eagle position.
  • Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, famously set himself on fire in protest of the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. Despite the fact that he was being burned to death, he remained completely calm and in a state of deep meditation.
  • Mentioned above in fictionalised form, Marcus Tullius Cicero, is recorded as being caught in his palanquin by the man sent to kill him, extending his neck out to give him a better angle to strike at and saying "There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly."
  • The great film critic Roger Ebert decided to face his terminal cancer and his physical decline from it openly an with considerable grace. This included appearing an Esquire cover story showing with his jaw removed and having the director of the Documentary about himself, Life Itself, depict in his full undaunted decrepitude.
  • Sirik Matak, Prime Minister of Cambodia, was executed by the Communists when they took over the country in 1975 after the United States abandoned Indochina. At the end, the United States offered to bring Matak to America. He refused. The courtesy and dignity of his refusal make it all the more harrowing, to the point where it doubles as a The Reason You Suck speech to the entire United States:
    I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it. You leave us and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness under the sky. But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans. Please accept, Excellency, my dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.
  • Sir Terry Pratchett, author of Discworld, refused to let an Alzheimer's diagnosis slow him down. He continued writing and appearing at conventions through the last few years of his life and became an outspoken advocate of the "Death With Dignity" movement, saying he'd rather end his life on his own terms than have his mind and body degenerate until he lost his identity. Eventually, he died peacefully of natural causes.
    AT LAST SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.
    Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. The End.
  • Famed anime director Satoshi Kon, famous for such works as Perfect Blue, was diagnosed in the terminal stages of pancreatic cancer. In a bit of an unusual move in terms of Japanese culture, Kon approached the situation with candor, choosing to maintain an open conversation in his blog about his condition until just before he died.
  • House cats will often find some nook to hide in if they know they're going to die soon.
  • This 5-year-old girl suffering from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease decides to die peacefully in her home over prolonged hospital treatment.
  • On 25 September 1957, Karl P. Schmidt received a bite from a venomous boomslang snake while trying to identify it. Recording his symptoms hour-by-hour, Schmidt catalogs pain, fatigue, and bleeding from gums and nose as he returns home for his final night of life. The following morning he ate breakfast, returned to work at the Field Museum and worked until just before his death around 1:30 PM (approximately 24 hours following his bite).
  • Patrick Swayze kept working despite fighting pancreatic cancer. When asked why he stayed signed on to the TV series The Beast, he answered, "How do you nurture a positive attitude when all the statistics say you're a dead man? You go to work."
  • Richard Feynman was not at all keen on the idea of dying (when told he was suffering from two independent cancers he remarked "I would hate to die twice, it's such a bore"), but with his strength fading and the end obviously approaching fast, he choose to spend his last few days playing the bongos and singing silly songs about orange juice note . There is some video footage of his performance and you can see that he's clearly a man with few regrets and at peace with his coming end.
  • Maximilian Kolbe was a Catholic priest condemned to Auschwitz. After an alleged escape note , the Nazis ordered ten men to be starved to death to discourage any further escapes. One of the men, a Polish Army sergeant, lamented that he had a wife and child. Thereupon, Kolbe went to the officer who had passed sentence at great personal risk of being shot to death on the spot and told him "This man has a wife and child. I am a Catholic priest, and have neither. Take me instead." In the starvation bunker, Kolbe led the other prisoners in prayer to keep their spirits up and ministered to them as they died. He was the last one left after three weeks, and the Nazis, fed up with his refusal to die, injected him with poison. His last breath was spent offering forgiveness to his executioners. The man whom he saved survived to be liberated by the Soviets note  and lived long enough to be an honored guest at Kolbe's canonization in 1982.
  • During his trial and execution, Henry Rinnan, a Norwegian Gestapo agent who was responsible for the deaths of at least thirteen Norwegian civilians and rebel agents, was reported to have faced his fate with a chilling smile.
  • Facing execution during the Irish Civil War, Robert Erskine Childers shook hands with the members of the firing squad that was about to execute him. His last words were "Take a step or two forward, lads, it will be easier that way."
  • Doubling with Taking You with Me, Russian soldier Alexander Prokhorenko was surrounded by ISIS terrorists in the Syrian Civil War, so he ordered an airstrike in his location knowing full well he would die. As he states in his final recording, he would have likely being taken prisoner, humiliated, forced to convert and horribly executed, so he decided to end his life with dignity rather than shame himself and his uniform, as well as taking down as many bastards as he could with them.
  • Some members of the Italian Fascist party, once it was clear they were about to die, faced their end with as much dignity as they could:
    • The five executed members of the "Traitors of July 25", the group that voted to depose Mussolini and to start negotiations with the Allies, were sentenced to be shot in the back while sitting, but all managed to show their dignity:
      • Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law, told the priest to tell his sons he died without hatred, and managed to turn his head to the squad before being shot.
      • Giovanni Marinelli, physically exhausted by what had previously happened and often crying in the days preceeding the execution, found the strenght to stand still and not cry.
      • Luciano Gottardi was recorded as having faced the trial and execution with utmost dignity, with his last words being "Long live Italy! Long live the Duce!".
      • Carlo Pareschi acted without a care from the moment of the vote against Mussolini to the execution, as if the whole thing was beneath him.
      • Upon being sentenced, retired general Emilio de Bono, World War I hero and one of the party leaders since the March on Rome, quipped "You get me by very little, I'm seventy-eight".
    • While accounts on how it happened conflict, most say that Benito Mussolini, upon being captured by Italian partisans, simply demanded they hurried up, even trying to hijack control of the shooting squad because they were wasting too much time.
    • Roberto Farinacci tried a desperate defense, but as he was being brought to the public square to be shot he pulled a large sum of money and gave it to a priest to devolve to charity, refused the blindfold, and only protested when he was told he'd be shot in the back, and managed to turn-twice, as the first time the shooting squad managed to avoid shooting him.
    • Giovanni Preziosi tried a desperate escape and found refuge with friends as Milan fell to the general insurrection-but the following morning he and his wife were found having jumped to their death, his suicide letter explaining that if there was no hope to continue the fight then they should just die.
  • HMS Birkenhead was a troopship. In 1852 she was sailing around Africa with soldiers and their families on board when she struck a submerged rock. The officers in charge set women and children into the lifeboats first, planning to evacuate the men next, but one boat was damaged and the other couldn't be launched. Realising that allowing the men to try and swim would put the women's boats in danger, the officers asked the men to maintain ranks while the ships went down. Only three men attempted to go overboard; the others stood in place as they sank to protect their women. 'Birkenhead drill' is the official name for the policy of 'women and children first' as this was one of the first instances of its' use; previously, the theory had been that strong men were more important to save.
  • Subverted with Ruth Snyder. She was going to be electrocuted for the murder of her husband and planned to be brave about it, only to lose it when she actually saw the chair. The warden was apparently so disturbed by her reaction he had her executed first to end her suffering.
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