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Most people spend a good portion of their lives engaged in conversation with others. We share our day’s highs and lows while gathered around the dinner table. Lovers exchange words of encouragement and affection. Parents instruct, reprimand, and encourage their children. Friends may meet to share a laugh or relieve each other’s burdens. Some people may be fascinated with the words others utter in their final days. They may question whether these words carry the additional weight of insight gained from a long life or the nearness of death. To that end, several books have been written on this topic.

8. Linguistic Patterns Noted by Lisa Smartt

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Lisa Smartt, of the Final Words Project, was with her father in the weeks before his death from prostate cancer. In his final three weeks, he engaged in what she calls, “a new language, one rich with metaphor and nonsense that spilled from my father’s lips.” This experience prompted Smartt to collect data through the internet, phone calls, and in person, regarding the words spoken by individuals approaching death. Smartt, a linguist, then organized this data according to linguistic themes. Smartt’s book, Words at the Threshold: What We Say as We’re Nearing Death is available on Amazon.

7. Arthur MacDonald and Karl S. Guthke

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Arthur Macdonald was an anthropologist who studied the last words of Americans in a desire to understand the mental state of those nearing the end of life. His article, “Death-Psychology of Historical Personages”, appeared in the American Journal of Psychology in October 1921. Meanwhile, in the book Last Words, German author Karl S. Guthke explored the fascination people have with the last words spoken by others. In his book, Guthke considers the authentic last words spoken by individuals as well as the last words spoken by characters in works of fiction.

6. Final Conversations by Keeley and Yingling

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The book Final Conversations: Helping the Living and the Dying Talk to Each Other was written by Maureen P. Keeley, Ph.D. and Julie M. Yingling, Ph.D. This book is a compilation of quotes from individuals in their final days of life. The book also includes advice for speaking with loved ones who are approaching death. At the beginning of the book, the authors state that, “If you have made a commitment to spending time with someone you love, and you are wondering what to say and do, you are not alone. This book is for you.”

5. Final Gifts by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley

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The book Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying was written by hospice nurses Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley. This book shares insights from the more than 20 years the authors spent caring for terminally ill patients. This book tells the stories of individuals and the communication they engaged in while approaching death. It also provides practical advice when caring for and communicating with a loved one in his or her last days.

4. Behavioral Sciences

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There is a lack of information in the scientific literature regarding the last words and interactions of those at the end of life. Information regarding the end of life tends to focus on the mechanics of keeping a patient physically and emotionally comfortable. However, a 2017 article in the journal Behavioral Sciences entitled “Final Conversations: Overview and Practical Implications for Patients, Families, and Healthcare Workers” pulls together research on final conversations in order to help healthcare professionals and family members care for patients nearing the end of life.

3. Famous Last Words by Ray Robinson

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The book Famous Last Words, Fond Farewells, Deathbed Diatribes, and Exclamations Upon Expiration offers a sometimes humorous glimpse at words spoken at the time of death. This book includes tidbits such as Civil War general John Sedgwick’s statement, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance“ right before a bullet smashed into his skull. Final words in this book are accompanied by a brief biography of each speaker, making this volume an entertaining, yet historical, tome.

2. Last Words of Saints and Sinners by Herbert Lockyear

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The book Last Words of Saints and Sinners by Herbert Lockyear contains 700 end-of-life quotes from everyday individuals, politicians, atheists, and Christians alike. Public speakers and preachers may turn to this book when looking for quotes for speeches and sermons. Another book, Dying, Death & Destiny, a Book of Hope, was written by Lockyear to instill hope in those facing death.

1. Situations That Affect Speech at the End of Life

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Family members may gather around a loved one’s bedside, hoping for last words of wisdom, love, and insight. However, there are situations that may affect a terminally ill patient’s ability to communicate. Pain medications, the ravages of disease, fogginess, delirium, and fatigue can all interfere with dying individuals’ ability to communicate. This may prevent them from sharing the words of love and wisdom within their minds and hearts. Furthermore, some patients may be rendered incapable of speech. Regardless, nonverbal forms of communication and support include being present, holding the loved one’s hand, and caring for physical needs.

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