Last Words, Great Words!
Have you ever read the wonderful book called “Famous Last Words” by Ray Robinson? It’s macabre, funny, worrisome, sad and joyful all at the same time. Mr. Robinson has somehow managed to collect the last words of famous people. I’m not sure how he did that, but he did, and it makes for fascinating reading. To be sure not all of these last words were uttered as the speakers were gasping their last; some were said days before, while they were still upright.
For example, Grace Kelly. Remember her? Well, she never got a chance to have a few meaningful last words of course, but her uncle did; he was George Kelly, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. When he was on his deathbed his niece (a different one) came to bid him farewell, and he said, “My dear, before you kiss me good-bye, fix your hair. It’s a mess.” Now that’s one guy who was determined to be annoying until the very end, and he clearly succeeded.
One of my favorite last-words guy was Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley. In 1931, he was convicted of robbery and murder, so while he was sitting in the electric chair in Sing-Sing and just seconds before they pulled the lever, he said, “You sons of bitches, give my love to Mother!” There’s really nothing quite so endearing as a son’s love for his mother, now is there?
And let’s not forget Nero, that vainglorious narcissist who dabbled a bit in arson and forced everyone to listen to him play his fiddle. He said just moments before he took his own life in 68 AD, “What an artist the world is losing in me.” Talk about conceit! Classic.
Well naturally, now that I’m 80, I’ve begun to rehearse my last words. I want them to be memorable, thrilling and of course motivational. I envision my being around 105, still lovely, and the whole scene right out of a good old Hollywood tear-jerker death scene. You know how that goes; the beloved departing person, that’d be moi, is propped up on 12 silken pillows with golden tassels. The lighting is muted and flattering. Music, soft and mournful, plays while impeccably dressed family and friends perch on chairs, weeping softly into scented tissues, all waiting for gentle pearls of great wisdom to fall from my still-ruby lips. I can hear the rich, soft music, I can see the beautiful quilts and pillows piled around me, I can see that I’m exceptionally beautiful, perfect coif, all my teeth in place, wearing a pale pink hand-made lace bed jacket, my fingers encrusted with diamonds and rubies and emeralds and vermillion nail polish ---and yet in this perfect scene in my mind, I can’t seem to think of a single final word to say to the sobbing congregation. Oh, I guess I can think of a few things, but not the gentle, poignant, forever-etched-in-the-listener’s-memories words I’ve been trying to get into my head in rehearsal for the real deal which will happen in 30 years or so.
I could steal the words Noel Coward said; “Good night my darlings. I’ll see you tomorrow,” although that may be a bit optimistic, all things considered.
Or I could steal from General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson who said to the medical people trying to save him after he’d been accidentally shot by his own men during the Civil War, “Let us cross over the river and sit under the shade of the trees.” Pleasant thoughts, that.
And then there’s my all-time favorite from a great hero of mine; Oscar Wilde. He was dying, knew it, and a month before that happened he said, “I am in a duel to death with this wallpaper. One of us has to go.” The guy was a genius! I’m figuring though, that he went and the wallpaper stayed.
And that’s about where it ends. I still have the entire last-scene in my head, and yet I can’t seem to come up with anything or original or memorable. Maybe it’ll be one of those things where one has to be there to make it happen. Maybe when I’m sweetly breathing my last I’ll have a verbal epiphany and say something important. Stunning. Meaningful. Heartrending. Catchy. Passionate. Clever. Amusing. Life-changing. Unforgettable. And not plagiarized.