Once when we were setting up chairs for an event, my friend Sharon told me what she hoped her last words on Earth would be. They made me laugh. Like Sharon herself they were funny — maybe even a little surprising if you didn’t know her well. And because I know Sharon would want me to, I’m going to keep them to myself.
Anyway. Our conversation made me think about last words in general. What do people say in their final moments here on Earth? A quick tour of “le Internet” reveals these final phrases reputed to have been uttered by famous people. (Please note I said “reputed.” Obviously we can’t get Gephardt to call these famous people and ask them to verify.)
Stan Laurel • “I’d rather be skiing.”
Emily Dickinson • “The fog is rising.”
Humphrey Bogart • “I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.”
Admiral Horatio Nelson • “Thank God, I have done my duty.”
Sir Walter Raleigh • “I have a long journey to take, and must bid the company farewell.”
Elvis Presley • “I hope I haven’t bored you.”
Salvador Dali • “I do not believe in my own death.”
Gen. John Sedgwick • “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”
John Adams • “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”
William Pitt • “I think I could eat one of Bellamy’s veal pies.”
Bing Crosby • “That was a great game of golf, fellers.”
Voltaire (when asked by a priest to denounce Satan) • “Now, now, my good man, this is no time for making enemies.”
I’m especially fond of my grandmother’s last words. Like all the women in our family, she was obsessed with hair issues. She fervently believed that if you found the right hairstyle, all the rest of your problems in life would be solved. Find the right hairstyle and you would automatically be smarter, thinner, wealthier, luckier in love, happier and guaranteed to win if you ever appeared on “Jeopardy” (which you undoubtedly would, if only you could find the right hairstyle).
So, of course, it came as no surprise when my grandmother’s last words (spoken to my mother) were, “Pat, I need a tint tomorrow.”
That’s what we want last words to do — to mean something. To tell us something about the speaker. About this life. About the next life.
My friend Sharon, who’s been a huge presence in our neighborhood, passed away last weekend. Did she get to say her chosen final words? I don’t know, although I like to think she did.
Meanwhile, I have some last words for her.
Thank you, Sharon. Thank you for the 12-packs of Dr Pepper on my birthday and the handmade decorations for Christmas. Thank you for inviting me to your home and making me lunch, even when you were ill. Thank you for the recipes you shared. Thank you for worrying about my migraines and giving me ideas for getting rid of them. Thank you for re-introducing me to the Bulwer-Lytton contest (www.bulwer-lytton.com).
Thank you for including our family in your family’s big events — Sarah and Sam’s wedding, in particular, was killer fun. Thank you for giving me starts from the plant on your windowsill. Thank you for the newspaper clippings. Thank you for being simultaneously reverent and irreverent. Thank you for loving my boys, especially Geoff. He loved you back.
Thank you for being so incredibly stubborn. You stayed with us that much longer because you were. Thank you, my friend.
For the all of it.
Ann Cannon can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/anncannontrib.