People struggle with the idea of leaving a legacy behind and how others will reflect on their lives. This is a common thread in humanity and is shown by the actions people take in their final moments and the words they leave behind.
This American Life approached this topic with their episode ‘Last Words’ which highlighted several short stories and some real life events of the final moments of life. One of the topics that was touched on was the relationship between Page Smith and Eloise Pickard Smith which ended in a very atypical way. Eloise was diagnosed with cancer and three months into her treatment Page began to develop symptoms of cancer as well. Then when Page learned his wife had died from her cancer he shortly succumbed to his illness 36 hours after.
What makes this so intriguing is that Page said that this was going to happen before it did. Page knew that he was going to pass once Eloise had departed at her own pace. Anne Easley backs this earnestly saying, “my mother had had a major heart attack 10 years before they both died. And Dad told all of us, all the four children, that if she died, he would also die.” Page’s son details, “He said– and I’ve never forgotten it– “I’ve looked into the void.” And it stuck in my mind very much.”. The words Page chose are very revealing.
To me the precipice he must have faced in seeing life without his wife assured him that he was fulfilled in the time he had spent on earth and didn’t see a need to continue without Eloise’s presence. And all of this can be seen in the word choice of ‘void’. I think the quote they also choose to engrave on the marker above their joint grave, “It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch.” is something that shows the pain of lifelong relationships. It is an excerpt they took from one of Page Smith’s articles for the San Francisco Chronicle during his dying years reflecting on a lifelong love.
Love can be a force that takes over in our final moments. It’s something people try to cultivate their entire lives and we only get a certain amount of times to truly express it. Sometimes that is in death as we see in one of the instances given during this episode’s discussion on black box recordings from crashed planes. One transcript reads, “Co-pilot, “Amy, I love you.” The cabin, sound of grunting. Sound of impact. End of tape.”. A somber realization that when people accept the inevitable they try to reach the ones they love the most.
Though most of the recordings only show the pilots speaking technically to each other to try and avoid disaster; some snippets can show how tragedy could have been avoided. In a Chinese plane transcript that detailed a crash when the pilots lost bearing on altitude in fog a simple language barrier caused the outcome. The plane warning was in English stating, ““Pull up! Pull up,” in a very flat, very loud way” and as the native Chinese struggled to understand the problem “the pilot was asking his co-pilot in Chinese, “What means pull up?””. A lack of understanding the problem due to a language barrier can be one of the hardest things to view in hindsight.
Word choice is something people can think about for a long time or decide in a single fleeting moment, but they reflect the lives we lead.
Glass, I., Vowell, S., Sante, L., & Wolff, T. (2018, January 31). Last Words. Retrieved from https://www.thisamericanlife.org/114/last-words