King Gilgamesh suffers the loss of his best friend Enkidu in the ancient Sumerian story inscribed in clay sometime between 2750 and 2500 BCE (Tablet VI). The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy is traditionally understood to be stories told by Moses after God has informed him that he will die without ever setting foot in the Promised Land (Num. 27.13).
Closer to our own era, The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy is one of literature's great examples of a man storying towards his death. Being present to these storying moments brings to mind what the Ancient Greeks might have called the realm of the Muses, a sacred vessel in which the human psyche of the dying can find healing through expression. The storied experience which emerges is unique to this time of life. Yet little research focuses on the physiology that undergirds and informs the act of narration at the end of the life trajectory. Through an interdisciplinary approach, this project weaves together end-of-life stories recorded in the earliest written records of humankind with a modern understanding of neuroscience and neurophysiology.
A scan of four thousand years of extant literature reveals that the emotional experiences of dying individuals have always been, and continue to be, the poetic expression of the human body itself. iii Millions of people over thousands of years have traveled the end of the life path before us, and their collective voices contain an abundance of wisdom. This dissertation gathers and explores this collective ancestral wisdom as it illuminates and informs the mythic landscape of the twilight time of life.