Benjamin Franklin is well known for his quote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Franklin wrote and spoke many witty sayings relating to mortality issues, some humorous, some serious.
His many roles in life, besides being one of the U.S. Founding Fathers, an inventor and scientist, included newspaper editor, printer, and book publisher. In 1728, aged 22, Franklin wrote what he hoped would be his own epitaph:
The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author.
Franklin’s actual grave, however, as he specified in his final will, simply reads “Benjamin and Deborah Franklin.” Yes, he was married, although the common-law Mrs. Franklin did not make the historical mark of Mrs. Martha Washington or Mrs. Abigail Adams.
In celebration of his birthday on January 17, 1706, here are some of Franklin’s choice morsels of wisdom on life and death:
“I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.”
“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing.”
“Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”
“Life’s Tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.”
“I guess I don’t so much mind being old, as I mind being fat and old.”
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”
“I look upon death to be as necessary to our constitution as sleep. We shall rise refreshed in the morning.”
“He that raises a large family, does, indeed, while he lives to observe them, stand a broader mark for sorrow; but then he stands a broader mark for pleasure too.
“For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise.”
Lastly, these moving words were spoken by Benjamin Franklin at the funeral of a friend:
“We are spirits. That bodies should be lent us, while they can afford us pleasure, assist us in acquiring knowledge, or in doing good to our fellow creatures, is a kind and benevolent act of God.
When they [our bodies] become unfit for these purposes and afford us pain instead of pleasure, instead of an aid become an encumbrance, and answer none of the intentions for which they were given, it is equally kind and benevolent, that a way is provided by which we may get rid of them. Death is that way.
Our friend and we were invited abroad on a party of pleasure, which is to last forever. His chair was ready first and he has gone before us. We could not all conveniently start together; and why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow, and know where to find him.”
Should you be called upon to deliver a reading at a funeral, consider using these wise words by our amazing – and amusing – Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin.
Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®, brings a light touch to serious subjects as a speaker who uses humor and funny films to attract people to discuss mortality, end-of-life, estate and funeral planning issues. She is Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement, author of the award-winning book and host of the TV and radio shows A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. Her website is http://www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
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