The following is an excerpt from ‘Words at the Threshold‘, Lisa Smartt’s book on what we say as we’re nearing death –Ed.
One of the ways people bring closure to their lives is through their final requests. The most common requests in the Final Words Project were humble ones related to visiting with friends and family members and enjoying certain small pleasures, like a last bottle of a favorite beer. Those who are dying often wait for certain friends or relatives so they can say good-bye. Final requests often take the form of ensuring that those they love will have all they need to continue forward. A typical example was a man’s advice to his daughter to make sure that his granddaughter “gets lots of guitar lessons.” To that, he added, “She is very talented, you know.” Another father told his son, “I am worried about your mother. She doesn’t seem well.”
One son described how his mother emerged from a completely unresponsive state a couple of days before dying to inform him about the location of important financial files that would settle her estate — making everything easier for him.
One patient requested the quilt that had warmed her many nights as she sat beside the woodstove of her mountain cabin; she sought its familiar comfort hours before dying.
My grandmother asked to have chocolate shavings placed on her tongue.
On Thanksgiving Day, the father of a large family, Steven Ross, asked that the carving tools for the Thanksgiving turkey be brought to his hospital bed so he could serve his favorite meal to those he loved. His family lovingly brought some turkey and a dull knife to him. Only partly lucid, he imagined it was an earlier time, and he encouraged all to enjoy the season’s bounty.
Rachel Weintraub described how her sister, who was dying of lung cancer, wanted a cigarette and pancakes before dying. The nurse, not honoring the woman’s last request, upped her morphine dosage — with disastrous effects. “My sister did not get either of her requests,” Rachel wrote. “Not a happy ending.”
Hopefully, you and your loved one will be in a place where last requests are fully honored — whether chocolate or a cigarette, a visit from a certain son or uncle, or pancakes heaped with syrup and whipped cream. For my dad it was the chance to choose one more winner at the horse races, which he got to watch on television, and the opportunity to admire, on video, his silver-screen goddess Marilyn Monroe one last time while she sang, “A kiss on the hand may be quite continental…”
Stepping into Another World
Developing a rapport with someone, or stepping into that person’s world, is the most powerful way to build a connection. In the early 1970s, John Grinder, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Richard Bandler, a student of psychology, identified patterns used by successful therapists. One fruitful strategy among the therapists was to match the lead representational system of the client. Each of us processes our experiences and represents them to ourselves and others differently — and these are revealed in visual, auditory, or kinesthetic terms.
Bandler and Grinder discovered that when a client speaks in visual terms, saying, for example, “I just can’t see what I am doing wrong,” the most effective therapists consciously or unconsciously match the modality of the person speaking and say something like “Let’s take a look and focus more closely on this.” Or, when clients would say something like “I just can’t grasp why it is not working out,” the therapists would use kinesthetic phrasing in reply, such as “I get what you mean…I feel you.”
When people feel that you are meeting them where they are, they feel “seen,” “heard,” or “known” and are comforted by that. Any act of communication offers an opportunity for building a bridge. One of the ways to do this is to listen to the language of the other person and match it. In this way you enter into the speaker’s reality and validate it. When you do this, it opens doors in multiple ways and allows for a deepening of rapport.
Lisa Smartt is the author of the bestselling Words at the Threshold (2017 New World Library) based on the findings of her Final Words Project (finalwordsproject.org), which she established with Dr. Raymond Moody. She has authored several other books including Diet for a Broken Heart, Lessons in Lullabies, Veil: Love Poems from across the Threshold, and Cante Bardo. Lisa is also a book coach and delights in being a midwife to new ideas and authors. Find out more about her book coaching here: https://lifeafterlife.com/book-coaching/