“It doesn’t happen like the movies. That’s not how patients die.”
February 11, 2019 10:01 AM   Subscribe

What People Actually Say Before They Die: “Famous last words” are the cornerstone of a romantic vision of death—one that falsely promises a final burst of lucidity and meaning before a person passes.
At the end of life, Keeley says, the majority of interactions will be nonverbal as the body shuts down and the person lacks the physical strength, and often even the lung capacity, for long utterances. “People will whisper, and they’ll be brief, single words—that’s all they have energy for,” Keeley said. [...] For those who do speak, it seems their vernacular is often banal. From a doctor I heard that people often say, “Oh fuck, oh fuck.” Often it’s the names of wives, husbands, children. “A nurse from the hospice told me that the last words of dying men often resembled each other,” wrote Hajo Schumacher in a September essay in Der Spiegel. “Almost everyone is calling for ‘Mommy’ or ‘Mama’ with the last breath.”
posted by not_the_water (64 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
End-of-life communication will only become more relevant as life lengthens and deaths happen more frequently in institutions...Those deaths will often be long and slow, and will likely take place in hospitals, hospices, or nursing homes overseen by teams of medical experts.

Last words aside, I'm not sure how much life-lengthening I want if the trade-off is a long, slow death in an institution.
posted by Frowner at 10:10 AM on February 11 [25 favorites]


Thanks for sharing the article. Slow delerious death is one thing, aircraft crashes are another. Either way, call your mother.
posted by anthill at 10:14 AM on February 11 [11 favorites]


Slow delerious death is one thing, aircraft crashes are another.

Damn those are heavy.
posted by stinkfoot at 10:32 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Thanks for these links, I love “last words” stuff, they are so interesting to me. The airplane ones especially, due to my love of William Langewiesche’s writings on the topic of disasters.
posted by gucci mane at 10:43 AM on February 11


I notice that one of those aircraft phrases is from Sully. So it ain't all bad.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:47 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


I sort of hoping to keep it together enough for “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God,” but “aw, kitty” is far more likely.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:10 AM on February 11 [12 favorites]


"Moose. Indian" - Henry David Thoreau
posted by plinth at 11:15 AM on February 11


"Thanks to medical advances and preventive care, a majority of people will likely die from either some sort of cancer, some sort of organ disease (foremost being cardiovascular disease), or simply advanced age. "

Uhh, yeah, thanks, but no thanks.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:37 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I sort of hoping to keep it together enough for “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God,” but “aw, kitty” is far more likely.

is this right before you try to pet the tiger?
posted by supermedusa at 11:37 AM on February 11 [16 favorites]


The last words my best friend had for me, in October, were my name, and "Oh, good" said in a low volume but the same tone we'd always used with each other -- warm, joyful, expressing the true love we had for each other. That she'd see me come into the room and say "Oh, good" was everything I needed to know about her, about us, about what we meant to each other, and what she still means to me even though I'm here and she's gone. It doens't need to be voluminous or loud to be so, so meaningful.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:37 AM on February 11 [81 favorites]


When my grandfather died, he had been in the hospital for weeks battling cancer, hooked up to machines, full of drugs all the time. At the end he would slip in and out of consciousness, and the last few times he must've thought it was the very end, because apparently his last words were "Why is it so goddamn hard to die?"
posted by zardoz at 11:41 AM on February 11 [35 favorites]


As a child I was told that my first word was "apple". When I heard that, I decided that I was going to wait until right I was about to die, and then say "apple" so that that would be my last word as well.

I have no idea how I thought I would ensure that such a thing would happen. But it sounds like I'd be confusing a hell of a lot of people if I did pull it off. ....I also am realizing I was a weird kid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:49 AM on February 11 [36 favorites]


Up your game and say "Fuji, not Gala"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:54 AM on February 11 [14 favorites]


I notice that one of those aircraft phrases is from Sully. So it ain't all bad.

And not all the aircraft ones are the actual last words (Air New Zealand 901’s last words were actually “Go around power, please”) nor are all of them the words of air crew. I suspect if they used actual last words of aircrew, many would be much less dramatic as they’re pilots issuing instructions as they try to save the aircraft.
posted by andraste at 11:54 AM on February 11


“People will whisper, and they’ll be brief, single words—that’s all they have energy for,” Keeley said. Medications limit communication. So does dry mouth and lack of dentures.

Yeah, my old man's last words were spoken a good sixteen hours before he actually died (or was pronounced dead). Medication, dry mouth, tubes. He said them before I got to the hospital after work, well before there was any crisis. As it was, his last words (in his mother tongue) ended up being "I am congested", which hardly seemed worthy of the man.

Mind you, although there was no great truth, no bare honesty, but just a mild complaint, it was his first actual complaint in his months of nasty illness. That was pretty remarkable, considering.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:04 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


My mom's last coherent words to me were "I have so much to tell you."
posted by MrVisible at 12:16 PM on February 11 [25 favorites]


My dad is dying, at home, of an aggressive glioblastoma. At times he is delirious, at other times painfully lucid. When I sit with him and he's not doing well I always tell him that we all love him because I want him, if he slips away, to carry that thought with him. He has had the train station dreams where all the deceased family members are there on the platform with him, and has an ongoing obsession with losing small parts of things -- the top of a pepper mill, a watch winder, a firing pin for a gun. He counts on his fingers, we're not sure what he's counting or why. His hands move constantly, fiddling with tiny bits that none of us can see. He sees things -- not true hallucinations, but misperceptions where an object becomes something else entirely. I listen to his every word wondering if it will be the last one and I hope for some profundity, although it is unlikely and more probable that it will be 'bollocks' which has been making regular appearances lately as he becomes increasingly frustrated by his inability to do things. He denies his imminent death and continues with plans that will never happen - taking the dog for long walks, buying a boat, flying to Greece. I hope that in his final moments, he believes he's doing one of those things.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 12:25 PM on February 11 [42 favorites]


My grandfather died of congestive heart failure (basically "old age") in his own bed, at home, surrounded by his children and grandchildren.

His vision was starting to fade, and so he looked over at my cousin, who was right next to him, and asked, pleasantly

"Oh, who's that?"

My cousin said, "It's Kelly, gramps."

and gramps said "Kelly! Oh, that's nice," and let his last breath go.

Not exactly an epigraph to grace the front matter of novels for the ages, but a pretty good way to go.
posted by murphy slaw at 12:37 PM on February 11 [17 favorites]


My mom had no last words when she died about a month and a half ago. I wasn't there. I was on a flight trying to get to her bedside in time but missed it by a couple hours. For her sake I'm glad she had no last thing to say. She was so confused the final months of her life. The delirium stemming from her pain medications or the cancer or we-don't-know-what had robbed her of coherent speech several weeks before she died. I'm also glad for selfish reasons. My siblings and I had very complicated and difficult relationships with her (two of my sisters hadn't spoken to her for years). If my mom's last words had been something lucid about one of us it likely would have caused a lot of pain.
posted by not_the_water at 12:52 PM on February 11 [10 favorites]


God bless...God damn. --James Thurber

Die, my dear doctor? That's the last thing I shall do! --Lord Palmerston

They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance! -- Union General John Segwick

I am just going outside and may be some time. -- Captain Lawrence Oates, at the South Pole.

Bugger Bognor! --George V

(Some of these may or may not be true.)
posted by dannyboybell at 1:09 PM on February 11


I am suddenly reminded of Dutch Schultz.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:20 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


My friends in the medical profession have also said that, with surprising frequency, the last thing people say is some version of "Mother." I find this so poignant, so beautiful, so lonely. It's such a small thing, but this little bit of information that has the texture of something very important but very difficult to truly grok.
posted by penduluum at 2:01 PM on February 11 [12 favorites]


"Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."
posted by sudogeek at 2:13 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


" Famous last words” are the cornerstone of a romantic vision of death—one that falsely promises a final burst of lucidity and meaning before a person passes.

Really? I thought "famous last words" was about people making bad decisions and not even foreseeing that they were going to die. Things like "well that doesn't look too hard".
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:19 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


"It's always the red wire."
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:28 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


When the love of my life died, she looked up at me and said, “See ya.”
posted by Jode at 2:31 PM on February 11 [35 favorites]


I thought "famous last words" was about people making bad decisions and not even foreseeing that they were going to die.

Came here to say this - I've actually never heard the specific phrase used un-ironically.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:41 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Thanks for this great post not_the_water.

I've heard many stories from people who've witnessed loved ones dying where the person asks or begs for death or says they're ready to go. When he was unable to get access to assisted suicide - legal in Oregon - a friend's father-in-law refused to eat for a couple weeks and starved himself to death.

It's amazing to me that there hasn't been more research on "last words" - it's an area of study full of psychology, spirituality, and linguistics.

My dad had throat and tongue cancer which had filled up his mouth and rendered him speechless a couple months before he died. He couldn't write legibly and his last few weeks were full of nothing but the breathing of the machines around him. Every time I think of that I regret that we never thought to find some kind of assistive technology for him, even just a letter board.

Each of us in the room told him we loved him and I felt that his eyes reflected that back to us.
posted by bendy at 3:34 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


As a child I was told that my first word was "apple". When I heard that, I decided that I was going to wait until right I was about to die, and then say "apple" so that that would be my last word as well.

If at the end I still have my faculties, I hope to have the timing to make my final utterance (even if after two weeks supine in a hospital bed), "Red wire or blue wire? Red wire or blue wire..."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:55 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I notice that one of those aircraft phrases is from Sully. So it ain't all bad.

Yeah, that was one of several that jumped out me as not being even remotely last words (along with Air France 4590 -- how weird is it that they saw another Concorde that was on fire when they were taking off?).

And if as if to drive it home, there is an amazing bit of sangfroid deadpan dialogue between Sully and F/O Skiles shortly before their plane goes into the drink, which was used as the title of an FPP previously: having done everything they can in preparation for a water landing, and still doing 140 knots while gliding two hundred feet above the Hudson, there is this delightful exchange:
Sullenberger: "Got any ideas?"

Skiles: "Actually not."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:13 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


My grandma wasn't verbal by the time I arrived for her last days, and in the months before she wasn't making much sense, except asking for her daughters. But the way she grasped for our hands and pulled us close while she still could made her message pretty clear.
posted by Emmy Rae at 4:13 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I hope my last word is same as the first (at least according to my mother): SHITASS.

Said I probably learned it from her as I was always getting into stuff and she'd go "Get outta there you little shitass!"
posted by OldAndTired at 4:26 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


the agents of KAOS: "Really? I thought "famous last words" was about people making bad decisions and not even foreseeing that they were going to die. Things like "well that doesn't look too hard"."

That's because the joke has taken over the original meaning. "Famous last words" used to be used to refer to poignant or important last words -- not necessarily bedside words, but also words left for posterity. "Et tu, Brute," "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do," that kind of thing.

It was such an established phrase that people started using it as the setup for jokes:

"In the famous last words of X"---(and here you expect something profound)---"punchline."

Now that structure has been used so much that it's the first thing that pops to mind when you hear "famous last words," having replaced the original sentiment of the phrase.
posted by Bugbread at 4:50 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


So many people who I have seen that are practicing their last lines:

Here, hold my beer.

It's not loaded.

Watch this!
posted by BlueHorse at 4:56 PM on February 11


Deathbed narratives are so, so important in the literature I study, and they're always so, so implausible. Someone is on the brink of death, barely able to breathe, and remains there! For an entire chapter! Which they spend talking in perfectly coherent full paragraphs! Studded with doctrinally-correct theological disquisitions! (At which point they die.) That being said, Pat Jalland, among others, has pointed out that real nineteenth-century Christians familiar with deathbed narrative tropes were in some cases consciously trying to perform them, even if they were no longer capable of speech.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:27 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Either this wallpaper goes, or I do. (Don’t care if it’s true, it is how I wish to think of Oscar Wilde passing)
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:40 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


My grandfather's last words: "We're out of gin."
posted by Floydd at 7:12 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Incredible. Thank-you.
posted by the letter at 9:17 PM on February 11


"Thomas Jefferson still survives."
posted by Chrysostom at 9:22 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


My father died of a hemorrhagic stroke. His last couple of weeks were spent comatose, but before he descended into that final coma, he communicated. At first he was still fully verbal and asking questions of the ambulance staff about his neurological symptoms. But his ability to verbalize deteriorated pretty quickly. By the time my sister arrived at the hospital, shortly after his admission, he was still able to slowly vocalize "my lovely daughter," which was very meaningful for her. But very soon he became aphasic, able to make sounds but not sense, and he closed his eyes and stopped talking.

But he kept holding on to my mother's hand for a while, which I talked about when giving the eulogy at his funeral, because it was very moving. And then, in the last minutes before he become comatose, he did a thing I did not discuss in the eulogy, as the room was full of grandkids and former students, but friends, it was funny, and poignant, and so very much my dad. He reached up and gave her breast a last feel. I mean, he didn't normally grope my mom in front of his kids, but he always made it clear he enjoyed the physical side of their marriage and admired her figure. Others have noted that in their last conscious moments, people often wish for maternal comfort, and breasts are certainly emblematic of that. So perhaps that could explain it. But I really think that his final wish, as he in essence passed, was for one last appreciation of his loving, sexual relationship with his wife, my mom. And if he was aware of the other people in the room at that point, well, the fact that this demonstration would be awkward for them just wasn't at the top of his priority list. He wanted one last feel. So he did that, and then let go, of her and conscious engagement with the world.
posted by DrMew at 9:39 PM on February 11 [27 favorites]


"I always thought coming was the best thing, but going has it beat by miles."

[from some story I once read]
posted by mule98J at 10:54 PM on February 11


"Wow. Oh, wow!"
~~ Steve Jobs
posted by dancestoblue at 11:17 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I don't know my exact words but I'd spent the previous half hour telling my friend, who was driving me to the ER -- once he'd finally gotten me into his pickup -- I kept telling him "Look, I don't need to go to the hospital. I'm fine."
December 15, 1954 -- July 6, 2004
(20-30 minutes later, once they finally got a heartbeat again)
July 6, 2004 -- we'll have to see
posted by dancestoblue at 11:30 PM on February 11 [13 favorites]


This scene from saving private Ryan.

As a mother of a 3yo boy it just kills me... I picture my son as an old man missing me... excuse me while I go weep my eyes out now.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:59 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


“Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.” Pancho Villa (allegedly).
posted by bouvin at 2:34 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Ever since I was involved in caring for my mother-in-law and father (who both died of cancer) I've been a bit skeptical of supposed profound last words. They were both severely unwell, unable to speak before they became comatose and the last few things they said were mainly relating to their physical condition. I think (although I can't remember for sure) the last coherent thing my mother-in-law said to me was "I'm sorry, I just feel so sick"*. She did apparently carry on squeezing my father in law's hand when he said her name even after she appeared otherwise to be unconscious, which is lovely.

I think the last thing my Dad said that I could understand was "When are they going to switch it off?" meaning (I'm fairly sure) when were they going to switch him off. As we were in the UK, where euthanasia is illegal, no-one was going to do that but I think it was an indicator that he recognised he was very near the end and wanted it to be over.

*Top palliative care tip - if a GP has prescribed oral anti-emetics to a person who is near end of life, kick up a fuss to get them administered IV before they start vomiting. It still really upsets me that she went through this unnecessarily.
posted by *becca* at 3:37 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


I wanted to say thank you to all the mefites who have shared their personal stories. They are deeply moving. I see you, I hear you, and if I could hug every one of you, I would.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 4:27 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]


Most people in developed countries won’t die as quickly and abruptly as their ancestors did.

I feel like the odds here aren't as good as they once looked.

My dad's last words—or rather the last words we heard him say since we weren't with when he died later that night—were "Do you have enough money?" addressed to my mom as she showed him a small toy she'd bought for my niece. We've always wondered if he was speaking specifically about the toy or worried more generally about what he was leaving—which he needn't've—or both. Some weeks earlier, when it looked like he might survive the stroke that killed him, he had been asked what his address was and he replied with his childhood one.

It might be fruitful to compare last words and near-death speech to the speech of people in other kinds of altered states of consciousness. It's odd how the connections people make in their final moments remind me of the way people sometimes talk on hallucinogens.

Me, when it's my time, I reckon I'll try to remember the Roy Batty monologue. That or "Either this wallpaper goes or I do."
posted by octobersurprise at 7:32 AM on February 12


Mine is going to be "Sully, remember when I said I'd kill you last?" but then Sully kills me while I'm monologuing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:44 AM on February 12


Personally, I hope mine aren't witty and self aware, because I can't think of a situation where I have the time and foresight to compose a suitability clever phrase that doesn't involve dying violently with some notice first. I'd prefer to avoid that state of affairs.
posted by sciatrix at 9:32 AM on February 12


Compose something clever *now*, then you are all set!
posted by Chrysostom at 10:32 AM on February 12


But however can I be prepared to remember it when the time approaches? I can't even remember where I've left a pen on a reliable basis!

Anyway, the ones that other people make up seem to be inevitably both topical and apt, which anything I compose now surely (I hope!) cannot be. If death comes as a surprise (as I fervently hope it will), there's no way to work out anything to say that is so apt ahead of time. Particularly this early in my life, with no real knowledge of what legacy I might leave behind me in time!
posted by sciatrix at 10:45 AM on February 12


Compose something clever *now*, then you are all set!

My beautiful sister wrote a note to be read at her graveside. Her last words were 'You leave here today with my love'
posted by night_train at 11:08 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


My father essentially died in his sleep of a pulmonary embolism a few weeks after a major heart surgery. My mom was in bed with him and in light of recent events understandably wanting to keep tabs on his status, so she asked him if he was okay as he stirred in his sleep. His response was a simple, "I'm good."

Pretty satisfying as last words go!
posted by zeusianfog at 11:41 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


"hearing is the last sense to fade" - that's fascinating, assuming it doesn't refer to those already deaf.
posted by doctornemo at 12:19 PM on February 12


From the Wikipedia entry for Henrik Ibsen: "On May 23, 1906, Ibsen died in his home at Kristiania (now Oslo) after a series of strokes in March 1900. When, on May 22, his nurse assured a visitor that he was a little better, Ibsen spluttered his last words, "Tvertimod!" (Or in English, "On the contrary!"). He died the following day at 2:30 pm."

I'd rather like to go out owning someone like that, as befits a Mefite.
posted by orange swan at 2:40 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


Interesting to read that travel metaphors are common, and to hear about your dad's dreams of railway stations, alltomorrowsparties (and I hope his final journey is as peaceful as it can be, for you all). I once interviewed Derek Doyle, who was a pioneer in the hospice movement, and he talked about the shift in mentality that was required when doctors first started to work in hospices - how they had to give up their desire to fix things, and start listening to what the patient wanted. Hope it's not too self linky to relate the story he told me here, but it's apposite:
I went to an old lady when she came in and said 'What would you like me to do, what is my role?'
She said, 'Go and get a platform ticket. It's a funny feeling, getting a single ticket, when you know you're not coming back. It's all very well having a doctor with lots of letters after his name, but what I want is a friend, and I want you to be a friend. I didn't know it was so lonely – dying is so lonely'.
Dr Doyle patted his pocket and assured her that he had his platform ticket ready to see her off. Then one day, she called him over. "She said, 'I've been waiting so long, but it's come. Have you got your platform ticket with you? Come with me'. She held my hand. 'You can't come with me all the way, but I'll feel quite safe as long as you've got your platform ticket.'
"She took my hand and gave it a little squeeze, and her hand dropped. And that was what, for me, it was all about. What anybody wants from their doctors at this time of life is someone who will stay by them, know their needs and their feelings and be friends to them, not just be super highly-trained specialists."
Indeed, he called his memoirs The Platform Ticket.
posted by penguin pie at 3:34 PM on February 12 [12 favorites]


I feel so grateful to have had two very Hollywood-like death bed experiences. My mother, who took several weeks to die, in the end succumbing to sepsis, had been mostly comatose for her last few days with extremely labored breath. Early in the afternoon of the day she died she opened her eyes, looked at me and said, "You've been such a good daughter." An hour later she opened er eyes again, looked up above her head and said: "I'm ready" and died.

My mother-in-law, who had been hospitalized for an internal bleed developed a blood clot in her leg and at 90, was not a candidate for any surgical interventions and could not be given blood thinner due to her internal bleed. She was placed on a morphine drip and became comatos and was expected to die soon. Her husband had been hospitalized in a different hospital for various heart related issues and they had not seen each other for almost a month. My husband and I drove the 7 hours to her bedside and arranged to have my father-in-law to be brought by ambulance to see her before she died. He was wheeled in on a gurney and he took her hand and called her name although we had been told that she was not likely to respond. After about 30 minutes of all of us around her bed, I leaned over her and said into her ear: "MUM! WAKE UP! TOM IS HERE!" and suddenly she opened her eyes. She saw my husband (her only living child) and me and her eyes lit up and she said "Oh! You're here!" And I said, "Look, Tom's here" and she turned her head and saw him on the gurney next to her and a beatific smile came over her face and she said "I love you! I love you all so much!" and my father-in-law (Tom) crying, said "I love you too! That's what I'm here to tell you!" and she said "I know" and closed her eyes and died. It was very intense and all I could think was that it doesn't get more Hollywood death bed scene than this.

Tom (my father-in-law) died less than a month later. He told us that he had no reason to live anymore and didn't have it in him to try to get well. Those were probably the last words he spoke to us before died quietly in his sleep.
posted by Plafield at 5:07 PM on February 12 [15 favorites]


Penguin Pie: You've reminded me of something I read in one of Oliver Sacks' books; a woman was suffering from a rapidly growing brain tumor that was at first causing increasingly severe Grand-Mal type seizures. But as the tumor spread, the seizures started manifesting as absence seizures with increasingly vivid hallucinations about her childhood in India. The worse her condition, the longer the seizures and the more vivid the hallucinations. At some point she remarked that "it's like I'm traveling home". Towards the end, she lapsed into a permanent sort of trance state, during which she had a smile on her face the whole time; she stayed in this state for three days, no doubt seeing herself back in India, then died.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:14 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]




@JacobMargolis:
Sad news. Mars rover #Opportunity is probably done. Sometime tonight, a team @NASAJPL will make their final attempt to contact #Oppy. If they can't, they'll likely call the mission. Here's what happened...

She was bouncing along, doing well, until a massive dust storm engulfed all of Mars in June 2018, knocking out communications with the team on earth. They haven’t heard from her since. It’s unclear exactly what happened...

The last message they received was basically, “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:18 PM on February 12 [9 favorites]


Well damn, I hope the flu doesn’t kill me, I have nothing pithy planned.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:44 PM on February 12


The last message they received was basically, “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
Wow. Genuinely moved to tears by that.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:43 AM on February 13 [5 favorites]


I feel I've been at too many deathbeds, though compared to a person my age in the 19th century it isn't that bad. There were last words, and I wrote them down, but I can't find the notes, and in a way I don't care that much. Other aspects of the proces of dying have left more of an impression.
But to stay on topic, one person cried out "Mum", and it felt so much like they were actually seeing their Mum that it was a huge relief. I had left some hours earlier so this is from my relatives.
In general, my experience is that people die like they lived. Some time before she died, My Gran almost died, and when she was in intensive care she was delirious for about a day. It was great fun. All her friends came over (in her mind) and they had a party. I couldn't help laughing. And then she recovered, and her first words were: "my dear, you have no idea how much I love you".
When she really died, it was quieter, and the conflicts she had carried with her into old age were more apparent, but at the same time she was very resolved about them. I think maybe the first near-death experience had prepared her for the real thing.
In this country, if you want hospice care, you have to acknowledge that you are dying. So I guess that "helps" the dying person to get on with the proces, and it is a proces, unless you die in the middle of life, from a heart attack or an accident. I wasn't the very last person to talk with my uncle, but I was the last person in our family. We had a glass of wine and talked about merging our businesses when he came back from holiday. Except he didn't come back. He was the age I am now.
When I started on this comment, I thought I'd write about some of the more difficult losses, and some other stuff, not for my own sake, but as an experience to help others. I can't. The thing is, losing your loved ones is just horrible. There is no way to get around that. But what I want to say is that it is easier if you are there, and you are involved. To our modern eyes, earlier generations' obsession with death may seem morbid, but what I've learnt from experience is that the worst losses are those where you are not involved and engaged.
My gran died like she wanted to, and for me and some of us, it was a moving and even beautiful day. But for some in my family, it was a nightmare. Her last words were not that day, since she was hardly conscious. They were the day before and faint and short. "Yes" and "good".
posted by mumimor at 9:20 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]


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