The Five People You Meet in Heaven: Last Words

Eddie’s Last Words

“How do people choose their final words? Do they realize their gravity? Are they fated to be wise?

By his 83rd birthday, Eddie had lost nearly everyone he’d cared about. Some had died young, and some had been given a chance to grow old before a disease or an accident took them away. At their funerals, Eddie listened as mourners recalled their final conversations. ‘It’s as if he knew he was going to die. . . .’ some would say.

Eddie never believed that. As far as he could tell, when your time came, it came, and that was that. You might say something smart on your way out, but you might just as easily say something stupid.

For the record, Eddie’s final words would be ‘Get back!'” (13)

Albom, Mitch. The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Hyperion: New York, 2003.

What do you think is the significance of Eddie’s last words?

Famous Last Words

The first “famous last words” that came to my mind were from the Bible. On the cross, Christ knew that He was making His final statements to His disciples and each is significant (although, I’m not going to take a lot of time to explain that right now). According to the books of Matthew and Mark, Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46, Mk 15:34). According to Luke, His last words were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46). And according to John, He declared, “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30).

Before ascending into heaven, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20). I love this final reminder that Jesus is with believers as they spread the Good News.

Because I was already thinking about last words and the significance of them, I decided to look up some famous last words (see here and here); some realized they were dying, but others did not.

For example, P.T. Barnum said, “How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?”

Author of Peter Pan, James M. Barrie said, “I can’t sleep.”

And Lord Byron said, “Now I shall go to sleep. Goodnight.”

Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, said, “I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace.”

Right before dying, people have said all sorts of things, ranging from the prosaic to the profound.

Our Last Words

WordPress’s Freshly Pressed feature recently linked to Mostly Bright Ideas, and one of his posts, “Arrivals and Departures,” was about the countdown to death he and his siblings are going through as they face the loss of their brother to brain cancer. You really should read the entire post because it’s a touching and poignant story, but here’s an excerpt that relates to our discussion of The Five People You Meet in Heaven and last words.

“What I’d really like,” I said, “would be to pull into the rental car place just as the Low Fuel light was coming on.”

And then Michael asked, “Do you think we’ll ever see Joe again?”

After a few long seconds of silence, Jackie said this:

“You never know if you’ll see someone again. Whenever we leave anybody, there’s a chance it’ll turn out to be the last time.”

We had been disagreeing and fooling around and acting like a bunch of immature children all week. But now my sister had said something true and perfect. Death sometimes announces itself months or years in advance. At other times it shows up without notice, and in a blink someone who’d always been there is gone. We may have just seen them a week ago, but we didn’t understand it would be the final time. We didn’t realize that good-bye was the real thing. Sometimes we don’t know. Is the tank half full? A quarter? Are we burning the last few drops? There’s no gauge to tell us how many days we have left.

The lesson, of course, is that we should treat every time spent together and every parting as though there may not be another. We hugged Michael several times before he hurried off to begin his journey home. Who knew when — or if — we would see him again? Or if he would see us?

I appreciate his point that we never know when might be the last time we see a friend or family member, so we should make the most of every opportunity we have with our loved ones. We don’t know when we might be saying our last words to someone, so we should take care to speak words of kindness and love.

Recap of discussion questions

What do you think is the significance of Eddie’s last words?

What is your response to Mostly Bright Idea’s post?

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “The Five People You Meet in Heaven: Last Words

  1. Eddie’s last words were words of protection – he was trying to keep everyone else safe and ensure that no one else would be injured by the broken ride. He didn’t say “Someone help me!” or “Call 9-1-1!” or “Grab that little girl!” He saw the problem, he attempted, as best he could, to resolve it without involving anyone else who might also be hurt in the attempt. His last words were selfless words.

    I agree with the concept that we should bear in mind that each encounter can possibly be a last encounter with a person. I have a friend who ends every conversation with me with the words, “I love you.” If there ever comes a time (and obviously there will, although it’s not something I want to think about) when I cannot speak with her anymore, her last words to me will have been, “I love you.”

    I also try to apply a version of this concept with my customers at work and with people I meet on the street. I know that I will likely not encounter them again, so my only words with them will always be my last words. Even if we are not having a discussion of spiritual matters, I can still use my words to show grace and kindness to those around me. The scene with Eddie’s final words reminds me that there is always so much backstory around us that we don’t know. As readers, we had access to a lot of detail that Eddie didn’t know. I try to remember this especially when dealing with difficulties like a delayed flight or a malfunctioning cash register. I don’t know what kind of day the other person is having, I don’t know what kind of story their life has been, but every encounter is an opportunity for me to shine grace to them instead of venting my frustrations at a person who is, more likely than not, not exclusively to blame for the inconvenience.

    • I was hoping someone would say Eddie’s last words were protective, because that’s exactly what I thought. Eddie thinks his life isn’t important and that he didn’t do much with it, but he has a history of being protective and giving of his life to help others.

      Your comment about your customers reminded me of this post by Jon Acuff about asking questions about people’s stories rather than always focusing on ourselves. It’s one way we can show grace to others.

      • Hey! Don’t give me an interesting link to another website! I can’t spend all day on here! Just kidding! It sounds like a great idea and I love the idea of life as story.

        My parents had a book about famous last words. I’m not sure if they were all true or more apocryphal, but they were interesting. I’ve also read a book that consisted of a separate chapter written by a different pastor about each one of the last sayings of Christ on the cross and the implications of those words.

        I too thought Eddie’s last words were protective. It showed that he cared about others; even old age and discouragement and loneliness had not blunted his concern for others. This concern is seen in little ways like when he made the twisty-stem animal for the little girl and gave his coworker $40 to go out with his wife. It also inspired him to chase the teens away from the bumper cars. He may have thought his life was useless, but he still cared for others. That’s why what he finds out about the Blue Man is so ironic.

      • Ha, ha! I spent an hour or more reading his site. Really good stuff, and he’s been posting some interesting reflections on his upbringing as a Catholic that I’ve found have parallels to my protestant, Baptist upbringing (as far as not really understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing because you were instructed in the ground-level teachings when you were so young and don’t remember them).

        Thanks for making those connections about the little girl and Eddie’s coworker. I had forgotten about those examples of his protectiveness.

  2. And of course his brother too, when he whaled into the kids who were beating on his brother and sent two of them to the hospital. He also wanted to protect his sick fellow prisoner in the mine too.

  3. I had skipped over this topic. When in ministry, I participated in services with the theme of “the last words of Christ” . In most instances, each person had to be at less than 3 minutes. So these last words are vivid to me.

    I am sure I would not say anything near as significant. I think I would like to die with a full tank of gas which would mean having interacted with those I love, theatre tickets in hand and waiting for an itinerary for my next trip. My house would be orderly, etc.

    I do not worry about death except when my husband and I set out on a trip together. If we had a mortal accident, there is no one who knows our business. I have rearranged things so that I think someone could come into our house and function.

    I also want to live to be very old which would mean sustaining many more losses than I have known. I say, “I love you” often, and to many.

    Eddie’s last words were protective. He knew the enormity of what was happening. I have been hard on Eddie because he did not leave to seek his fortune. In re-reading, I see that Eddie was a fortune to many. He was stable, capable, and kind.

  4. Jane Potter
    I had skipped over this topic. When in ministry, I participated in services with the theme of “the last words of Christ” . In most instances, each person had to speak less than three minutes. So, these last words are vivid to me.

    I am sure I would not say anything near as significant. I think I would like to die with a full tank of gas which would mean having interacted with those I love, theatre tickets in hand and waiting for an itinerary for my next trip. My house would be orderly, etc.

    I do not worry about death except when my husband and I set out on a trip together. If we had a mortal accident, there is no one who knows our business. I have rearranged things so that I think someone could come into our house and function.

    I also want to live to be very old which would mean sustaining many more losses than I have known. I say, “I love you” often, and to many.

    Eddie’s last words were protective. He knew the enormity of what was happening. I have been hard on Eddie because he did not leave to seek his fortune. In re-reading, I see that Eddie was a fortune to many. He was stable, capable, and kind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s