It used to be that most people died at home, away from the commotion of the hospital and of last-ditch medical procedures. Most of us would prefer it that way, to die at home among loved ones, in a setting peaceful enough to allow final conversations. The last words a dying person says are often held close by loved ones, a cherished final bit of communication, whether or not the words make sense. Sometimes the words do make sense, as when Oscar Wilde made his final joke: “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.” Sometimes advice is offered, as in the beguiling last words of Alduous Huxley: “Think in other categories.” Journalist Elizabeth Weil, in her short piece in the New York Times about the death of Scharlette Holdman, tells a story of last words: “Shortly before Holdman died, her house filled up with friends. At one point, all the women left, and six or seven men stood around as Holdman lay unconscious in her bed. She snapped to for a moment and blurted out, ‘All right, boys, let’s get cracking!’” This electrifying command displayed Holdman’s vital energy, even while dying. The setting was conducive to the moment: she was at home, surrounded by loved ones. Peaceful circumstances for final conversations are yet another reason why hospice and palliative care can make such a difference at the end of life.

From the New York Times, Scharlette Holdman at 70: