What would I like my last words to be? In recent months I have lost four special friends. In each case, I did not know at the time that the words I heard when we last spoke would be the last I ever heard from that person. But each of them left me a particular legacy.
One had been in the US Marine Corps in WWII. He used to live near us, but a couple years back moved to California to live with his daughter. Last summer, at age 95, he came by to see us, with the help of his son. For the most part, he asked about our lives, family and such, and also about others in the neighborhood. As we parted with a hug, he readily said, “I love you,” to each of us. We communicated by email occasionally after that. I sent him a gift copy of my book, Courage to Care. His last email message was dated January 9. He wrote, “I am about half way through [your book]. Tell me the cost. I would like to order some to give to friends. All is well here. Love, Joe.” On February 9, he died at the age of 96.
In July, we had supper with a Hagemeyer cousin in Minnesota at the nursing care center where he had lived for several years. This cousin served in the armed forces during the Korean conflict. Always cheerful, he seemed to greatly enjoy our time together as we shared lots of memories. Our families had often worked together on our neighboring farms. He loved his work as a farmer and as a builder. Together with his wife, he made numerous trips to places of need where they served on volunteer work crews. His wife had died during the past year. He said he was thankful for God’s many blessings, for the family he had been given and the many opportunities they shared. Four months later, in November, he died, just a few days short of 88 years. What I remember most is he was grateful to God for having a life of many adventures and much love. And he always smiled.
A much younger friend developed cancer that came back again and again to afflict him in his late 40s and then early 50s. One of his greatest pleasures had always been doing volunteer work with needy people both near home and also on mission trips to Appalachia. He could easily have turned bitter at the illness that disabled him in the middle of life, but the last time I visited him, he said, “I just hope I can bless one person each day that I have left.”
One more friend closer to my age was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease just as he reached the peak of his professional career, teaching post graduate seminary students. He continued to teach for about ten years but then had to retire early. We kept in touch all through his next nearly twenty years of declining health. He lived in a nursing center his last several years, losing more and more of his abilities. But we still had many deep conversations. However, the last two times I saw him, he could hardly form a word or two, so I did most of the talking, and I sang a few songs with my guitar that I knew he really loved. In our last visit, he had been unable to speak a single word and fell asleep off and on. When I was ready to leave, I gave him a gentle hug and told him I loved him.
He looked at me with a clear eye, and mustering all his effort, was able to say one word, “Love. . . ” That was his last word to me.
I won’t forget these final impressions and precious words. I hope every day I will say some kind and worthy thing to each person I meet. It just may happen to be my last, and I want it be a good one.
© 2020 Stanley Hagemeyer