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  • Writer's pictureMary Balistreri

Last Words. You Do Not Control Them.

In most movies and stories, when a significant person is dying, they utter something tremendously needed, important, or wise right before they pass away. Sometimes the main character in a movie is told by their father that he loved them even though he never said it. Or sometimes the main character in a novel is told at a deathbed to look after a family member. They then dedicate their entire lives to fulfilling that final request.

Since my sister and mom died this year, I continue to ponder last words. The one fact that strikes me the hardest is this: No one has control over the last thing they say.

Once you are gone, it is the responsibility of your loved ones and whomever is finalizing your goodbye to the world to determine what you would want others see, hear, and know about you. For instance, which pictures of you would you choose for your memorial? Unless you explicitly tell someone what is acceptable to you, you have no control. What if there is only one picture of you with a certain family member, and it is chosen even though your mouth is hanging open or your eyes are closed or it was taken BEFORE you lost all that weight? Into the memorial slide show it goes, and you have no recourse. You are deceased.

If you are a mystical magical, spooky person like my sister, Ann, maybe you can conduct the final elements of your life from your eternal resting place. She and my mom may have sent us a few hints from the afterlife. One family member is pretty certain my mom sent images of red flowers to them after she passed. This makes sense, because my mom was a gardener and loved red roses in particular. Several of us believe Ann sent us songs to remind us of her after she crossed over. I was the recipient of music from my sister, and it made sense, music was a mainstay of her life.

In both instances, birds showed up unexpectedly to remind us of the spirits of the two. This kind of sign especially seems significant when the bird sightings are off season like the bluebirds who materialized at a family member's feeder in late October, possibly at the hour she passed. My mom used to call me her little bluebird...hmmm. And, a dark-eyed junco, in his winter splendor, appeared outside her window at hospice, possibly a bit early in the season. My mom loved birds.

None of the messages we received said, "Change my last words to..." or "Don't you dare tell anyone what my last words were." or "I don't want Check The Pot Roast engraved on my tombstone."

"I'm not dead yet!" Last words of Ann Howard, beloved sister to Chris Manske, Susan Babinec, and Mary Balistreri.

Would Ann want her last words to be recorded as they really were? Ann loved the macabre, the mystical, and every kind of dark humor. And, she had almost died so many times throughout her life, we often echoed Monty Python's line, "I'm not quite dead. Actually, I'm feeling much better now." Maybe Ann selected those for her last words on purpose. They certainly suit her personality. And all of us gathered around her hospital bed experienced a much-needed bit of levity from her expression. The room filled with laughter as we all assured her we understood she was not quite dead, yet.

"Because I'm sassy." Last words of Audrey Balistreri, beloved mother of Ann Howard and the three women listed above.

Audrey Balistreri WAS sassy. She was also very demure, quiet, and shy. Her true nature only came out with people she trusted and her closest friends and confidants. So, would she have wanted these to be her last words? She really had no control over it, because none of us know when we will precisely die.

Even though my mom had been confined to a hospital room where the words "hospice" and "imminent death" were spoken out loud in front of her, she still was in the dark, as were we all, about when the precise moment of death would occur. In the midst of her dementia, she experienced a day of greater lucidity before she was transferred to hospice. She recognized her family in the room. She made a joke about how much family filled the room. Very sassy, just like her.

After a few loved ones left the room, only my grandniece Eve and I remained. We told mom stories and played music to her. She lit up while during that time, but did not speak, until... We talked about the mischievous nature and sassy mouths of her many offspring. We shared a laugh and I asked her, "Mom, why are all your daughters, grand daughters, and great-grand daughters so sassy?" Without missing a beat, she replied, "Because I am sassy!" She smiled when she said it.

After that, she stopped talking. That is one sign that death is imminent. We continued to talk to her, play music to her, and tell her stories. She did not respond again except a few times when a tear drifted down her cheek. What would she say if she could talk now, I wondered?

Are these appropriate last words for my mom? I do not know. What would be better? I also do not know. More questions than answers on this front. I am sitting in a space of pondering, wondering, and thinking with no conclusions drawn.

So, I wonder if I could grab control of this situation for myself. If I crafted my own last words and put them in my will somewhere, would those left behind publish them in my obituary, highlight them in a eulogy about me, and engrave them on something awesome like maybe a trinket or necklace that held some of my ashes?

My son would most likely be the executor of my estate. He is known for his sassy nature (just like his grandmother) and may choose to saddle me with my actual last words. Maybe I will be hallucinating and say something like, "The duck in the streetlamp." Or, maybe, I will express my love of something inane like, "I love chocolate so! I wish I had eaten more of it in my life."

Truth is, I will never know. Even so, I am committed to diligently writing something awesome for my last words. I hope they blow everyone away!

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