Not even the angels know: The last conversation
There is always a first of things, and there is always a last of things. We usually know the firsts, but we never know which will be the last … until it is the last. The book of Matthew says, of the Day of Judgement, “No one knows the hour, not the angels nor the Son, but the Father only.” The same is true for the personal “last day.” Nobody knows which day will be your last.
There is always a “last time” for every interaction. Since we never know the day or the hour, it just makes sense for us to strive to make every memory we leave a blessing instead of a curse, because no one knows when a memory will be the very last one you leave behind.
There is a lovely Jewish expression used when someone dies: “May his memory be a blessing!”
The idea is that if the person lived a good life, filled with mitzvahs, good deeds, and kindness, then his or her life was more a blessing than a bane to family, friends, and community, and their memory will also be a blessing as people recall the good deeds and kind words the person was known for.
When I think back on the “lasts” I’ve had with people who had no idea that that event was the last time we’d seen or speak with each other, some were blessings. One or two were not.
It’s always easier when you both know that death is imminent. In one case, a close college friend was dying. He knew it and his family knew it, so his sister-in-law informed me and said “If there were ever anything you wanted to say to him, say it now.” We emailed a few times, and we were both able to achieve a certain peace and closure before he died.
Where my father was concerned, I am pretty sure that my last words were “Thank you for everything you ever did for me. I love you,” and his last words were “I love you, too.”
A few years ago, a family member I was not close to summoned me to come for a visit. I had no reason to suspect anything untoward, so I went quite happily and innocently to her home for a visit. I figured I’d hear some family stories and have some tea.
She never offered me something to drink, but she certainly had a few family stories to tell me. To the end of my days I will never understand why she felt such a burning desire to impart this particular information. This may have been the third or fourth conversation I ever had with this person, but as they say, “this one was a doozy.”
She spent the next 40 minutes or so explaining to me in the most excruciating detail how, back in 1958, neither set of grandparents had been in favor of my parents adopting me. Both sides, she kept emphasizing.
Because I have, to put it kindly, a quirky sense of humor, what came to mind was this: “Wow. So! Been sitting on that egg for 60 years, hey? How good did it feel to finally hatch it?”
She died later that year, before I could get any more details or information from her. Probably just as well. Not a good “last memory” for sure.
Other “last words” were things I said to people who passed away not much later. In one instance a causal conversation with a student in the lunchroom turned out to be the most fortunate thing I’ve ever said to a student, or to anyone. Some kids act out in class. This happens as often as the sun coming up in the morning. But kids have this thing they do, where when you correct them and try to get them in line, which is what the class and the school expect you to do as the teacher, the child makes the mistake of thinking you don’t “like” them.
This happened with a girl years ago. I’d had to send her out of class more than once.
One day we were in the lunchroom and I think I may have complimented her on something.
She said, “I thought you didn’t like me.” I said “I like you just fine! It’s just that it’s my job to keep good order. I like you. You’re delightful. Of course I like you.”
When she passed away in a terrible accident, I gave thanks to God and all his angels that I’d had that conversation with her.
We never know the hour.
Let’s take the time and mindfulness to let our own memory be a blessing to those who call us to mind later. Truly, we never know the hour.
Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She graduated Saint Joseph high school in 1977, then graduated from Rutgers College in New Brunswick and went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002, where she and her husband make their home.