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Final Words Research

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Lisa Smartt


What inspired Steve Jobs to say, “Wow! Wow! Wow!” right before he died? Why do some people suddenly become lucid right before dying-- even after months of not communicating—to tell their family and friends, “ I love you all so much. I am just fine now. Don’t worry about me.”? How is it that the dying often know the day and hour of their death—and why do they inform us using symbols and metaphors that are so hard to understand? Why does the speech at end of life sometimes makes no sense? What do those puzzling words mean? the mystery of final words: what hidden truths will we uncover in the language of end of life? PHOTO a psychiatrist and philosopher PHOTO a psychology professor and researcher PHOTO a linguist & poet join together in the first scientific study of its kind Research Into the Communications of the Dying sponsored by Bryn Athyn College with Dr. Raymond Moody, Dr Erica Goldblatt Hyatt and Lisa Smartt, MA Please help fund this groundbreaking research. As people die, their language often changes, and sometimes in major ways: • People may repeat phrases or words in unusual ways. • People tend to speak about journeys and traveling, “I am waiting for the train to come to take me home. Please help me pack my bag.” • Symbols are commonly used to speak about difficult issues. For example, a mother might say, “I have five boxes. I love these boxes, and I am worried what will happen to them, ” as a way to speak about her concern about her five children. • People often speak in interesting ways about location, “I am between bus stops now. Please help me get down from here.” • People who are dying sometimes mention seeing people or places that friends and loved ones do not see. “There’s my husband Frank who died years ago,” or ”There’s a young child in the room with me,” or “l see green trees and a beautiful fountain over there.” • Commonly people say things that don’t make sense. Sometimes these are contradictory statements. “Honey, there is an introductory offer for the closing of the store,” or “I have half of a full measure.” The above examples represent the types of speech that we will be recording directly from the bedsides of the dying. We will then transcribe, analyze and categorize the utterances to determine if psychological and linguistic patterns and themes emerge. Research Into the Communications of the Dying is the first scientific study of its kind and has been fully approved by an Institutional Review Board. Here are some of the questions we hope to answer: • How do variables such as age, sex, diagnosis and medications influence what the dying say? • Do people die as they have lived? For example, do devoutly religious people use language at the end of life that reflects these observances? What about those with no spiritual or religious affiliations? • Is personality consistent across the dying process, or do dying people display new, different, or unusual personality characteristics? • Do the dying use the same elements of language and speech structure as the healthy living? If not, in what kinds of specific ways is the language at end of life different? • Do certain themes or patterns arise in the language of the dying that are consistent across variables? It is hoped that this research will provide insight into how to better communicate with the dying and ease anxiety that may arise at the end of life when new or different language is heard at the bedside. The results of the study will contribute to an area of research never formally explored from a scientific perspective and will also be used to provide educational materials for family, friends, and providers to connect with the dying. "Research Into the Communications of the Dying is cutting-edge research on the frontiers of knowledge--work that truly deserves to be supported. I am highly enthusiastic about this investigation and am delighted to participate in any way I can be helpful. It has been a real honor and blessing to work with Lisa Smartt and Erica Goldblatt Hyatt in formulating what I feel is truly momentous research. " Raymond Moody, MD PhD RAYMOND’S STORY I will interview Raymond on Friday to get his exact words ERICA’S STORY I was only 8 years old when I rushed into my parents’ bedroom in the middle of the night and asked them what happens when we die. It was this very early awareness of death that launched my career working first clinically with individuals making the transition to the “other world” and now, as a researcher, studying what happens when we die from a scientific perspective. That first night wrapped in the love and safety of my parents’ arms, they told me about Dr. Raymond Moody and the concept of the near-death experience. I never would have imagined that over twenty years later, I would have the privilege of working with this innovator and the linguist Lisa Smartt, founder of The Final Words Project. When I first connected with Lisa, I knew beyond WORDS how important this work is, how very innovative and trailblazing. Together we developed a protocol derived in empirical methodology to study the words of the dying, and I can’t wait to see what we find. We are on the precipice of a paradigm shift, and it’s going to be quite a wild ride Lisa’s Story On my 53rd birthday, the phone rang before sunrise. It was so early in the morning that I knew immediately something was wrong. “It’s mom. Dad’s in the hospital. “ I rushed out my office and into the car to drive the hour from Napa to Berkeley as my mother explained by phone what happened the night before: My father, a Ph.D., psychologist, walked out the front door at midnight in his underwear and strolled down one of Berkeley’s busiest avenues. When the police found him sitting at an intersection trembling with cold, he explained, “Tonight is the big exhibition, and I am bringing boxes to my wife’s art gallery for the show. I am having trouble finding the art gallery. Do you know where the big exhibition is going to be?” They helped my father stand up from the curb and shook their heads with pity as they helped him into the police car. There were no boxes in his hands. There was no art exhibition. The big exhibition my father talked about was merely a metaphor—and I would soon discover that it was a kind of metaphor that was common at end of life. He was telling those who listened to him, as he spoke a language veiled in the symbol of the art show, that a major occurrence was on its way. Using the symbols of the big art show, he was letting us know: pay attention because something major is happening. He was getting ready to die. But at the time, none of us knew that this kind of figurative language is common in the words of the dying. We dismissed my father utterances as mere “word salad.” That evening and those words marked the beginning of a three-week period in which my father died from complications related to the radiation treatment he was receiving for prostate cancer. I was at his bedside for many hours during those weeks, and as I sat beside him, it was if a portal opened, and as it did, I discovered a new language, rich with metaphor and nonsense that spilled from my father’s lips. Trained as a linguist, it was my first impulse to write all that my father said I his dying days, and to study it with the curiosity and care of a scientist. As I did, I began to notice patterns in his unintelligible language—and an emergence of metaphors and figurative language, and it was like stepping into another dimension, the kind of dream-like world conjured up by mystics and poets. While grieving the loss of him, I also felt that witnessed something remarkable as I transcribed his words between the worlds. Some Memorable Final Words of Celebrities: In one of the anthologies of last words, comedian Bob Hope’s deathbed conversation with his wife, who was in shock over her husband’s rapid decline: “Bob, we never made arrangements for your burial. Where do you want to be buried, honey? We have to figure this out. Where do you want to be buried?” “Surprise me,” was his response, so typical of Hope’s dry wit. As it seems with many last words, his were true to character. A more philosophical conversation took place between celebrity film critic Roger Ebert and his wife Chaz who described in her interview in Esquire in 2013: “That week before Roger passed away, I would see him and he would talk about having visited this other place. I thought he was hallucinating. I thought they were giving him too much medication. But the day before he passed away, he wrote me a note: ‘This is all an elaborate hoax.’ I asked him, ‘What's a hoax?’ And he was talking about this world, this place. He said it was all an illusion. I thought he was just confused. But he was not confused. He wasn't visiting heaven, not the way we think of heaven. He described it as a vastness that you can't even imagine. It was a place where the past, present, and future were happening all at once.” Every Day Last Words Are Spoken Compelling moments like these are occurring at bedsides in rooms everywhere although until now many have gone unheard. Every day last words are spoken. They are rarely as simple or clear or authoritative as what we might find between the covers of books or magazines. The final unedited words of people are often more complicated and even more compelling than what we might discover in anthologies or in the tabloids. Most final words are less literal, less intelligible, and more enigmatic. Almost everyone is given a platform before dying. Even those in coma or who have not communicated in years, may speak just before they die to advise, forgive, love , or simply leave behind mysterious phrases such as, “It’s not that.” “The pronoun is all wrong,” “It’s beautiful here. Mother is coming for me now,” or “I left the money in the third drawer down.” Some samples of final words gathered through The Final Words Project with Lisa Smartt, MA and Raymond Moody. (1) Renovating Heaven My dad had been a roofing contractor and carpenter during his life. At my father's bedside when he was dying, he would awaken and look over at me and smile so big....and he told me they had "all these kitchenettes over there!".....there were miles and miles of them and he would be helping to build them. He certainly was having an amazing time during his passing away judging from the smiles and excited look on his face when he would wake up. My dad was also one of those who didn't eat for the week proceeding his death and then 24 hours before he actually passed woke up ravenous and ate a huge meal at breakfast and then again at lunch right before he passed that evening. (2) Simple Last Words My father said these simple words before passing, "Well, then...good bye." (3) Broken My dad said about his best friend who had died a year earlier. " I am having trouble reaching reach Jack. Tell him my modality is broken." (4) Toll Honey, get me my checkbook. I need to pay to get in. (5) Dressing Up I need my pearls for the big dance tonight. (6) Rabbit Hole Please help me down the rabbit hole. Please help pull my leg down through the rabbit hole. (7) Everything That Matters Daddy was asking me to push him backwards...his bed is against the wall, so I told him that felt difficult. He looked so sad. I asked him why he wanted me to push him backwards, and he said, "Everything that matters is behind me now." (8) Breaking Free My mom said, " I'm trying to get out of this cage. I'm trying to get out of this cage. Now my other leg." The next day, she was repeating, "It's time to get up, get up, get up." (9) Coma My mother was in a coma for three weeks. One day, her eyes popped open, she looked at me and said, "Tell everyone that I am okay and that I love them." She died five hours later. (10) Home A few days before my grandmother died, she said to my aunts and uncles, "Can I go home now?" (11) Reservoirs As he was dying, he wanted to reassure me that the drought would be ending soon, "The big storm is coming. I can see the reservoirs are filling. They are filling now." (12) Other Worlds My mother whispered at the very end, "Oh more...more...more worlds and powerful." (13) Happy Just before dying, he opened his eyes, looked towards the heavens and smiled broadly, "I'm too happy!" I had never before heard him use the word "too" like that. (14) Planes You hear that plane going over? Is that coming okay? That is the coming of day. (15) Talking I was in the other room, and I heard my mother talking and talking. I came to her and asked who she was speaking to, "I am talking to your father!" she said. My dad died 8 years ago. She seemed so happy. "I feel so much more calm now," she said. "Much better now." (16) Boxes She started talking about the boxes she needed to organize. She started asking me where to put those 3 boxes. At first I could not make sense of what she was saying. Then I realized. She had three children. I thought maybe those boxes were a metaphor for her children. (17) Arms My great grandfather stretched out her arms and said, "Wait for me daddy! I am coming home." (18) Foreign Language My mother told me about her sister who died when she was only 12. When she was dying, she pointed behind my mother and said, "Look at that bWhat inspired Steve Jobs to say "Wow! Wow" Wow!" before he took his last breath? Why do some people suddenly become lucid right before they die and express the love and gratitude that was rarely spoken throughout their lives--even those in comas? Why do people refer to various forms of transportation awaiting to take them somewhere as they approach end of life? Why does the speech of our final days sometimes makes so little sense? What do those puzzling words mean? These and so many more questions form the heart of our Research Into the Communications of the Dying, a multidisciplinary investigation into final words. Each of us--Erica, Raymond and Lisa--feel a personal as well as professional call to de-mystify the dying process and enhance the relationships that matter at end of life. We also want to know more about the survival of consciousness. Are there any indications in the language that there might ,indeed, be an afterlife?



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