Life After Death and Steve Job's Last Words

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“Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.” ~Steve Jobs

I will preface this post by telling you that I’m neither a believer nor a non-believer. I am a firm “I-don’t-knower.”

I don’t know what happens after death. I know what I’d like to believe. I know the idea of “lights out and we’re gone” is very disconcerting to my psyche and ego. But I really  just don’t know what happens.

I read an article this week written about Steve Job’s sister, Mona Simpson, who gave a eulogy for her brother that was printed in Sunday’s New York Times. The article and Steve Job’s last words got me thinking about what happens at the moments of death and what might happen after.

Steve Job’s last words

According to Ms. Simpson, “Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time he stared at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them. Steve’s last words were: ‘Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.'”

Oh wow.

Those last words gave me a shiver and a moment of hope, maybe even a moment of anticipation.

What was Steve Job’s seeing?

What was he experiencing in those moments when he repeated “oh wow” three times?

Was it something beautiful? A loved one? God?

Or was he simply experiencing a surge in brain wave activity, a result of the brain’s neurons discharging as they lose oxygen from lack of blood pressure? Visual or auditory hallucinations are not uncommon in the hours before death which can be caused by medication or the dying brain.

Near death experiences

Beyond deathbed hallucinations,the existence of so-called Near Death Experiences (NDEs), during which the dying report having mystical sensations before being resuscitated, is now widely accepted by doctors and scientists.

Although the cause is unknown, NDEs follow a consistent pattern involving  feelings of deep peace, followed by a sense of floating up and out of the body, then through a tunnel toward a bright light, and seeing previously deceased loved ones.

Although there is little argument that NDEs occur frequently and with consistently similar stages, there are many scientific, spiritual, and psychological theories as to what causes them. If you want to read more about these theories, check out this article.

But it all boils down to one question: does consciousness survive physical death or not?

There are compelling reasons to accept that it’s possible. Many NDEs involve the unconscious patient reporting on conversations in the room; brain dead patients having visions; and other phenomena that can’t be scientifically explained. However, none of these events proves that consciousness survives after death, and most of us aren’t able to converse with disembodied souls — unless you are the Long Island medium (a new reality show for those who don’t know).

But this brings me back to Steve Jobs and his “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Whatever was happening to him was happening while he was still physically alive. Whether it was medically induced hallucinations, a loss of oxygen to his brain, or real visions from the other side, it was his reality. And it was clearly compelling.

In those last moments, when his life was compressed to his deathbed, his family, and his consciousness, Steve Job’s experience of it was “oh wow.”

It makes me wonder whether or not our experience of dying might reflect our experience of living. Steve Jobs lived an “oh wow” life. He was a creator, an inventor, and a lover of learning. He seized every moment of life and continued to really live until his dying body wouldn’t allow it.

Even as he struggled physically in his final hours, his sister remarked, “But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.”

“He was working at this, too. Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it.”

I don’t know if during my lifetime there will be any solid scientific proof for life after death. I tend to doubt it, even though there are many studies, experiments,  and articles on the subject.

It is a complex and controversial topic, but one that fascinates and taunts us. We all want to believe we’ll live on even when our bodies die. We want some certainty about it.

But perhaps our time now would be better spent studying life during life rather than life after death. Maybe we should embrace Steve Jobs’ example and live an “Oh wow” life so that when the moment of death arrives, it won’t matter so much what comes next.  In fact, not knowing what comes next might be the greatest gift of all for the living. At least that’s what Steve thought. What about you?

“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” ~Steve Jobs

If you would like to read the full eulogy by Mona Simpson, please read The New York Times article.

A voice from the other side says, “Please tweet!”

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Comments

  1. Interesting, insightful and inspiring.

  2. Cathy | Treatment Talk says:

    Hi Barrie,

    I’m with you being “a firm “I-don’t-knower.” Studying life seems more important to me as well. As much as we would like to know for sure what life after death brings to us, there is a point when it feels like it’s not the best use of our time. Inspiring post and thanks for the link to the article.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yes, you are right Cathy — life is for the living. We might as well enjoy living while we are alive, because we’ll find out about life after death soon enough!

  3. i agree. there is nothng to lose. why not do what u love, instead of worrying about what others might think etc…

  4. Ranjeet Kapoor says:

    Dear Barrie,

    I have experienced Near Death Experience on June 25th this year when I was getting drown in a swimming pool. If you ask me how was the experience? I too could say nothing to you… What I have seen and heard inside was a real VOID and I had no urge to fight back at a moment as the moment was so much magnetism in it. But, when People around me saved me…I was a bit puzzled then and surprised now also.

    Thanks,
    Ranjeet

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Wow Ranjeet, what an amazing experience. I’m so glad you were rescued. Was it a pleasant experience or did you just feel nothing?

  5. Those last three words are a gift of hope, if not to all, then only to me (and certainly to his family). It’s true, no one really “knows” what awaits us after we leave this life, but there is so much to believe in and hope for and live for. Life is a miracle, all of it. Thank you, Barrie. I love your posts and what you do. Aloha! Graham Salisbury

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yes, they are a gift of hope. Even if he was experiencing some kind of brain activity as a result of dying, it’s nice to know that those last moments can be pleasant or even thrilling. Thank you for your kind words Graham. I can’t tell you how much it means to hear that. :)

  6. Thanks for this post Barrie. Some years ago, Dec 15 1991, my then wife Joy suffered a catastrophic stroke on the plane as we were returning from celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in Tobago.

    Joy died in hospital soon after our plane reached Vancouver. She was in a coma, or something like it. But as I was sitting beside her, she suddenly opened her eyes and look at me. I bent my head down to her and I heard her whisper one word to me very softly: “Home.”

    I like to think she was already experiencing that same indescribable peace and joy that was so compelling to Steve Jobs. But why do we have to wait until we die to experience that joy and peace? Suppose what we are really talking about here is simply the natural joy and peace of our own being?

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Wow Christopher, what a comfort that must have been to you to hear her say that. I’m so glad for you that you heard that and that you were right by her side. The natural joy and peace of our own being — that is something to be celebrated every day Christopher. We forget about it too often.

  7. I read the eulogy on Sunday and thought it was very beautiful. Steve Jobs not only lived a full life but died a full death. Amazing.

    I have had a NDE. Over 10 years ago my car tire blew off the wheel on a highway. I felt the vibration as I veered toward the left shoulder and knew I was going to roll. It happened so quickly I doubt it all took a full minute. The entire time I was flipping in the air (three times I was told) I was completely calm because a gentle voice in my head kept repeating… “You’re going to be fine, you’re going to be fine…” and I was.

    The car landed on the median in the grass. My little VW Cabrio (with the top down) took all the impact in the left rear quarter then gently rolled right. As I was trying to get out of the seat belt, because I was afraid the car might blow up, there came two guys who stopped to help who pulled me out. Within minutes there were at least a dozen people on that median with me and most were doctors and nurses. Believe me I have no explanation for that.

    I broke my right arm and had a lot of bruising but only needed one evening in the hospital. Truly a miracle.
    b

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Oh my gosh Barbara — the angels were watching over you! I’m so glad you survived that experience with just a few injuries. And thank goodness so many people arrived to help you. I am so glad you are here to share your story with us!

  8. Hi Barrie,

    Your writing is always phenomenal, but this article just BLEW ME AWAY! I hope you don’t mind, but I shared it on Twitter, FB and also LinkedIn. Utterly outstanding!!! Thank you!!!

    Christina

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you so much Christina — you have made my day! Of course I don’t mind if you share the post. :)

  9. A-mazing, Barrie. A couple of those were exactly my (and I suppose others’) thoughts – that he was possibly seeing something wonderful/amazing or (on the other hand) whether it was just his dying brain playing tricks. But you’ve taken this entire discourse to a whole new insightful level.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you SK. I’m glad you found it insightful. I used to ponder the life after death thing often. But it’s pretty clear that we won’t know until our own moment of death. Just in case everything ends at death, I’m trying to live my best life!

  10. Hi Barrie,

    Thank you for focusing us onto life again. As much as we want to talk and investigate death and NDE, living in the moment is still the best way to live. Only when we live in the moment and cherish them all will we be able to experience the ‘Oh wow” experience. These wonderful moments are ours to create. We need not wait for death to be upon us before experiencing them.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I couldn’t agree more Jimmy! It looks like your current post is a good follow-up to this discussion. :)

  11. “Study life during life” – I love that. Focus on what we know, not what we don’t. Our life is a known reality. We may not understand a lot of the why’s of suffering and pain, but we do have a reality base we can work with. Let’s work at making our life the most meaningful, joyful and ‘impactful’ as we can. That’s our job while we’re here.’ We’re in the business of Living.

  12. Love the post Barrie!

    I think Steve was an awesome person and what he achieved- very few can. To remain happy and content even during your last days, to see death right in the face and accept things so bravely and willingly is not something that most can do.

    Our family underwent a near fatal accident where our car somersaulted thrice and yet we were all left unhurt. I was the only one who fell out and rolled over with a head injury, fracture and a few scratches. But I see His hand in this – as I feel I was given a second life, in-fact all of us were. And just to be alive and breathing is a miracle. This incidence made us more aware of His presence, the supreme power and we remain ever so grateful.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Oh my Harleena. I am so glad you are OK and that your family wasn’t hurt. Those experiences make life even more exquisite. Thank you for sharing that with us.

  13. Hi Barrie,

    I have an uncle who is now deceased but he experienced two NDEs as he suffered from his heart.

    In both times he described a very pleasant sensation of inner peace and claimed to have seen a lot of our already deceased family all smiling back at him.

    I definitely don’t know what Steve could have seen or feel when his moment came but I’d like to think that his last words were something good.

    I’m currently reading the book written on him by Walter Isaacson and the man is simply amazing.

    Amazing article here, thanks for sharing and I also enjoyed the comment thread, have a great weekend! ;-)

    Sergio

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you Sergio. I’m so glad you liked it. I watched a biography of Steve Jobs this weekend, and it was fascinating. I’m sure the book you mentioned is quite good. I will check it out. He is an intriguing personality.

  14. another great post, barrie!

    personally, as a born again Christian, i believe in life after death and heaven. it has given me hope and motivation to create and achieve, to help others succeed, while i’m here on earth. i don’t force others to believe it also, but i encourage them to have faith.

    i am awed by Steve Job’s last words: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” that’s how heaven must have felt.

    again, thank you, barrie, for these posts worth pondering!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Raymund,
      It’s fascinating to think about what he could have been seeing or feeling. One day we will all know. For now, I’m trying to look at the beautiful world around me while living and feel “oh wow” about it. :)

  15. Death has been and is a mystery for all of us. Life after death still remains mysterious. The thing is to improve our karma while we are on earth so that we can be strong at the moment of death. One of my friend’s had a near death experience in which she died for a few minutes and felt someone telling her “your time has not come”. It really shocked me.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Rosalia,
      I’ve heard that before from others who have had NDEs. You have this overwhelming sense of peace and calm, and then a voice says you must go back to your life. There is an uncanny similarity in NDEs. I think it’s fascinating.

  16. Yes, saying “I don’t know” is a good safe place to be, but not a very courageous place. I say that I am 98.8% certain that consciousness survives death, and that means I am 1.2% skeptical. And, no, there is no absolute proof that consciousness survives death, but the evidence strongly suggests it.

    As for living this life and worrying about the next one when the time comes, i.e., living in the present, one has to dig a little deeper to discover the fallacy of this. As Willilam James and many other great philosophers have said, one cannot effectively live in the present without some regard for the future, including life after death. It’s pretty easy when you are young and fully absorbed with making a living, raising a family, etc., etc., but becomes increasing difficult as one approaches death door. The objective becomes to “live in eternity,” which involves living in the past, present, and future all at the same time. l

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