My mother’s death last year was sudden and unexpected. There was no opportunity to slip in any last words, to say goodbye. We’d never had a close relationship, anyway. She did her best, but she was afraid of emotions––both her own and mine. We were never able to talk about anything very meaningful.

I had stayed with her every other month, for a week or ten days at a time, during her last year. Not out of daughterly duty, but because caring for our elders is the right thing to do. I was at peace with my contribution. I was on the phone with her the week before she died, and she said “I love you”. I had never heard her say that before. It was not a cliche comment or something said with the demand of an equal reply. It was an honest statement of her feelings. I was surprised.

I had no idea that those would be the last words I would ever hear from her, but they vibrated through my being and have stuck with me. Since then, I’ve talked with several people about last words––both the last thing they heard from someone or the last thing they themselves said, before there were no more chances to say anything. There is a wide range of both positive and negative sentiments expressed. Some people are haunted by a criticism leveled at them on their loved ones’ death bed. Others are haunted by the last thing that they said to someone, not knowing the person would pass on. In my mother’s last words, I received a great gift.

I have a sign in my kitchen that says: Keep Your Words Sweet, You Might Have to Eat Them. I also want to keep my words sweet because they just might be my last.