Last words

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Last words are the final utterances of a person before death. The meaning is sometimes expanded to include non-ultimate utterances in the final days or hours before death.

Last words of famous or infamous people are sometimes recorded (although not always accurately) such that this is a historical and literary trope. According to Karl Guthke, though, last words as recorded in public documents are often reflections of the social attitude toward death at the time, rather than reports of actual historical facts.[1] Published last words may also reflect merely what the dying person's intimates or supporters wished to have promulgated as their final testament.[citation needed]

Last words – it doesn’t happen like the movies. That’s not how patients die.

— Bob Parker[1]

The actual last words of dying people are usually less grandiose than those attributed to historical figures, and are also seldom published. Persons at the last stage of dying by illness frequently suffer delerium, a diminishment of mental acuity, or ability to speak clearly, or some combination of the three. According to New Zealand psychiatrist Sandy McLeod, persons in the final stages of malignant illness do not normally remain mentally clear. And some people have no last words at all near their death, silenced by dementia or other causes.[1] According to Maureen Keeley, "People will whisper, and they'll be brief, single words – that's all they have energy for."[2]

Consequently, actual final utterances are often short or difficult to interpret. Diminished breathing ability can limit volume, and medications, lack of energy, dry mouth, and lack of dentures can also impede clear communication. Last words are commonly the names of spouses or children, or banal utterances such as "Mama" and "Oh, fuck".[1]

Reported last words of 21st century Americans include sensical comments ("I think I’m dying", "It’s about damn time you got here! I’ve been waiting!", "Don’t be sad") requests to medical staff ("Kill me", "Come here. Look at me! Help me!", "Please, please, please... don’t tell my parents I was drinking"), indications of perceiving or addressing dead loved ones ("my [deceased] mom’s here. Are we going?", "[deceased husband]Bill’s here love, I’ve got to go", "Bob, Bob, here I come. Oh, honey I’ve missed you so much!") and indications of hallucinations (""They have no eyes", "I see a bright light... Horses... No eyes... No... NO...NOOO!...I understand", "But I don’t know how to get there"; one observer reported "Last year, my grandfather started desperately pleading for his life with his German captors from WWII. The doctor present was smart and said in German: 'You are free, Herr Caticature. You are free.' And then he died.")[3][4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Michael Erard (January 16, 2019). "What People Actually Say Before They Die". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 8, 2021., republished at Getpocket
  2. ^ Maureen Keeley, quoted at "What do dying people really say? 'Mama,' curse words, and more". Advisory Board. January 30, 2019. Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  3. ^ Renée Blinn. "25 Creepy and Cathartic Last Words from Patients". Fact Of The Day. Retrieved January 10, 2021.[better source needed]
  4. ^ Lorenzo Jensen III (December 13, 2017). "Creepy Last Words: What 29 People Said Right Before Dying". Thought Catalog. The Thought & Expression Company, LLC. Retrieved January 10, 2021.[better source needed]

Further reading[edit]

  • Smart, Lisa (2017). Words at the Threshold: What We Say as We're Nearing Death. New World Library. ISBN 978-1608684601.
  • Callanan, Maggie; Kelley, Patricia (2012). Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1451667257.
  • Keeley, Maureen; Yingling, Julie (2007). Final Conversations: Helping the Living and the Dying Talk to Each Other. Vanderwyk & Burnham. ISBN 978-1889242309.