Call them “famous last words” — because in a way, they’re just that: what folks say just before dying. When they occur with loved ones, they become “famous” to our families. Everyone discusses what was said.
And so it is that we look with interest upon a somewhat scholarly book by linguist Lisa Smartt called Words At the Threshold: What We Say As We’re Nearing Death.
It’s not just verbiage: often, in what a dying person utters, there is insight into the next realm, for they convey new things — extraordinary things — they are “seeing.”
You won’t see them, but they’ll point to the ceiling and often a corner of it and begin speaking to someone or something invisible or describe a reality opening before them.
Or, they simply make a statement for those they leave behind — on occasion, words to live by, words of wisdom.
Famously, there was the awe-filled final exclamation from Apple founder Steve Jobs:
“Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow!” he uttered with his last breaths.
It about sums it up.
There was Thomas Edison:
“It’s very beautiful over there.”
There were also the negative ones.
“Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”
And Emily Dickinson:
“I must go, for the fog is rising.”
(Don’t know what to make of that. Wisps of eternal mist, or purgatory?)
Chaz Ebert, wife of the celebrity movie critic Roger Ebert, said that her husband talked about visiting “this other place,” and the day before he passed, wrote her a note that said, “This is all an elaborate hoax.” When asked, “What’s a hoax?” it became clear he was talking about the physical world.
As Ebert told his spouse, in the eternal there is indescribable vastness and the past, present, and future occur all at once. It is our true home. It is the true reality. Life on earth is as a dream.
Many mutter words of forgiveness or apologize. Or simply put practical matters in order (“I left the money in the third drawer down.”) Or, express gratitude (“Thank you. I love you.”) Perhaps you have some you would like to share with us.
One minister described the final days of a crusty old inmate in Texas who had a deathbed conversion.
“He was sitting in a corner of his cell — I could see him looking up at the corner, as I later found out many people do as they die,” recalled the preacher. “It was as if the heavens had opened up and he could see something broad and vast. His eyes grew large and his old countenance changed. He looked up at the ceiling of his cell and stammered out, ‘God is… greater… greater than anything I could ever hope for or imagine.'”
Added the minister, “Big tears flowed down his face. I swear he was looking at Heaven as he said it!”
[resources: Afterlife books]