A person’s last words often take on an uncanny significance, giving provocative clues about the ultimate fate of the human soul. Until recently, no one has systematically studied end-of-life communication by drawing on examples from ordinary people.
Linguist Lisa Smartt changed all that with the Final Words Project, which she established in conjunction with world-renowned afterlife expert Raymond Moody. Her task chronicles the linguistic patterns and themes in the words people speak as they leave this world.
Smartt’s research was initially inspired by what she saw and heard in the three weeks her father spent dying from complications related to cancer radiation therapy. Within four years, she had collected hundreds of end of life utterances, which she then analyzed for linguistic patterns and themes. Words at the Threshold: What We Say as We’re Nearing Death (New World Library, March 15, 2017) shares the findings of her research into this uncharted territory.
Smartt collected accounts and transcripts from health-care providers, friends, and family members of the dying. She gathered over fifteen hundred English end of life statements. These alternated from single words to complete sentences, from those who were a few hours away to those who were a few weeks from dying. Her book, which offers stories and data from her research, aims to help readers better understand how to engage with those they love in their final days. It also offers a rational exploration of the question of an afterlife.