It occurred to me the other day how much pressure our society places on dying people. Families gather around to hear their last words, their last uttering, their last hopes and dreams.
In the book Death Comes for the Archbishop, author Willa Cather describes this moment with colorful anticipation:
"...as a dramatic climax, a moment when the soul made its entrance into the next world, passing in full consciousness through a lowly door to and unimaginable scene. Among the watchers there was always the hope that the dying man might reveal something of what he alone could see; that his countenance, if not his lips, would speak, and on his features would fall some light or shadow from beyond. The "Last Words" of great men, Napoleon, Lord Byron, were still printed in gift-books, and the dying murmurs of every common man and woman were listened for and treasured by their neighbors and kins-folk. These sayings, no matter how unimportant, were given oracular significance and pondered by those who must one day go down the same road." (Page 170)
Since ancient days, it seems, we wait for those last words of our loved ones.
In my experience now with over 100 death experiences, not one person has uttered any "last words." I hate to bust anyone's bubble, but it's just never happened on my watch. Their last words were said way before they were in the hospital. And that gives me reason to pause.
I am realizing that the last words are the words spoken not by the dying one, but by the ones who loved, the ones who accompanied, the ones who shared the last moments. These are the family members, the survivors.
Their "last words" are often unrepeatable as they are so sacred. I can only hint at the kinds of last words that I have heard - and no words that I use will be sufficient. These words are said in fire, in whispers, and cloaked in grief or joy.
After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
- 1Kings 19: 12-14
In this moment, what are your famous last words?