This is an online version of my column for the Billericay & Wickford Gazette.
It’s no secret that many of us like to have the last word on a wide variety of subjects. What’s more interesting, perhaps, are the words we’re choosing. According to a recent poll, the majority of our deathbed utterances are about matters of the heart. Because, when it comes down to it, nothing matters as much as love.
Of 2,198 adults surveyed, 62% said relationship advice was the most common subject when it comes to parting words of wisdom. A spokesman from Perfect Choice Funerals said: “Relationship advice is very common in this situation … this is the final chance to let your loved one know what you think, and many take the opportunity to share their thoughts.”
Much of this deathbed advice, we can assume, is from a generation who lived through the Second World War. A generation that saw loss on a mass scale and who understand, perhaps better than any other, the desperate, life-and-death significance of personal relationships. But will it always be this way?
I can’t help but wonder what the deathbed advice of ‘generation selfie’ will look like. What wisdom will they want to pass on? In a world that can so often seem scripted (usually in 280 characters – thanks Twitter) will they be able to achieve the heartfelt spontaneity that mark out the very best deathbed words? Perhaps there will be deathbed social media posts instead? After all, you can now appoint someone to be your ‘Facebook heir’ who will maintain your profile after your death.
I’m sure many of us would like to imagine we’d come up with some sparkling wit in our final moments – intentional or otherwise. Oscar Wilde famously quipped: “This wallpaper is disgusting. One of us will have to go.” Perhaps Bing Crosby’s famous: “That was a great game of golf, fellas” might work for you? Maybe writer Anton Chekov’s: “It’s never too late for a glass of champagne” is more your style? Or perhaps you’ll be caught out unexpectedly, just like American Civil War General John Sedgwick, when he said: “They couldn’t hit an elephant from this dist …” just as a bullet shot him in the head! What last words might you want to pass onto your family and friends? It’s worth thinking about and worth writing down.
The survey I mentioned earlier suggested that love was the most important theme in people’s last words and love was the theme of Jesus’ last words on the cross – which included an amazing statement/prayer: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus put forward, what we might call, a legal argument concerning ‘extenuating circumstances’ – the fact that his persecutors didn’t realise they were mocking and torturing the Son of God. Surely, he should have raged at those who nailed him to the cross or the evil in the world. But love, rather than anger, are to be found in his last words. Jesus pleaded on our behalf before the Father with the love that called him to be born into a stable; the love that touched the hearts and lives of friend and foe alike; the love that brings incredible, unbelievable grace and mercy into our lives.
Because of what Jesus did on the cross on our behalf, whatever we face – even the grave itself – we can commit ourselves, and those we love, securely and confidently into the Father’s hands.
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