Reading John Green’s Looking for Alaska, which was indeed a delightful experience, I was reminded of the interesting activity of reading people’s last words. This made me go through some last words again. Out of these last words some were witty like what Lady Nancy Astor said after seeing all her children assembled at her bedside in her last illness: “Jakie, is it my birthday or am I dying?” or what James D. French said before he was executed via the electric chair: “How’s this for a headline? French Fries.” (If you did not get this one read his surname again.)
Some other show that the person who said them was obviously not expecting death like what John Sedgwick said in response to a suggestion that he should not show himself over the parapet during the Battle of the Wilderness: “Nonsense, they couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” But apparently they could.
Some felt peaceful and were waiting for their death like Jane Austen who when asked by her sister Cassandra if there was anything she wanted she replied “Nothing but death” and then died. But indeed, this has not been the case with everyone. Many people had not been prepared, either for their last word or for their death, the first of which seems less important. Last words of José Doroteo Arango Arámbula were “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.”
Some people were not prepared for their death. Huey Long, an American politician, said “Not ready Don’t let me die, I have got so much to do.” Moments before being stabbed to death, Sharon Tate, the famous actress, said: “Please, please don’t kill me. I don’t want to die. I just want to have my baby.” It is really sad to think she did not get the chance to even say good bye to friends and family. Not everyone is as lucky as James K. Polk, 11th President of the United States who got to talk to his wife on his deathbed and said “I love you Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.”
However, what is even sadder than not being able to say good bye to your family or telling them you love them for the last time, is not being ready for death. It reminds me of how I feel moments before my overseas trips when there are only few hours to my flight and I have not packed yet. Yes that is bad and stressful but I am pretty much sure it is nothing compared to how one feels when you are not ready for the trip that has no return.
I do not know if Steve Jobs’ last words: “Oh wow, Oh wow, Oh wow” meant he saw something others could not see or not but for sure Abbas Babai did see something. Abbas and his friends were captains of a jet. During a war, flying over a bare desert, they were attacked by the enemy and Abbas was shot. Abbas told his friend “look down, it looks like heaven, go lower I want to see the trees.” and died. His friend managed to survive but for sure he did not see the trees Abbas had seen in a bare desert.
Reading all of these last words and trying to put myself in their shoes makes me feel I should 1. prepare a memorable last word and 2. make sure the moment I am about to die I do not have any unfinished business. But then it occurs to me that even if I have a great sentence prepared how am I to know when to say it? Most people who have memorable last words are those who were executed. So they knew that in few moments they were about to die and thus they said their last words. But if I don’t die by execution, which I desperately hope I don’t, how do I know when I will die to say my last words. So many people die in sleep. So many people die during a normal conversation with people. So many people die alone and no one is there to record their last words. So I have decided the only way for a normal person (normal meaning not getting executed) to have a memorable last words is to make all his words a memorable one. Last words do not need to be philosophical or Shakespeare-y to be memorable. I am sure “I love you” will be a very memorable last word for a wife, or a mother or a son who hears from a loved one. So I have decided to try not to ever say harsh words to anyone. Cause who knows, maybe as soon as I leave them I die and those will be the last words I will be remembered with. Instead, I am going to tell my friends and family “I love you” every time I meet them, this way if I never returned to them, which I inevitably won’t at one point, the last words I have said are I LOVE YOU.
P.S. I love you.