(Not So) Famous Last Words

Do people become more grateful when they are asked to reflect upon their own mortality? Studies show that taking time to thinking about one’s death can actually promote healthy behaviors and help people prioritize what matters most to them.

I read a haunting article in Scientific American article that takes this topic one step further.

What do people think about in the moments before their death? To explore this unfathomable question, Michael Shermer, author of The Moral Arc, analyzed the final statements of 417 death row inmates. His work is not intended to glorify or denounce the accused, rather, it is intended to explore the mindsets of those facing certain death.

According to a text analysis program, “love,” “know,” “family,” “thank” and “sorry” were the words most commonly used. Shermer provides some examples of the final statements:

To my family, to my mom, I love you.

I appreciate everybody for their love and support. You all keep strong, thank you for showing me love and teaching me how to love.

I want to tell my sons I love them; I have always loved them.

I would like to extend my love to my family members and my relatives for all of the love and support you have showed me.

As the ocean always returns to itself, love always returns to itself.

Forgiveness and love were the two main emotions. Shermer found that 44 percent either apologized for their crimes or asked for forgiveness from the families present. Seventy percent of the statements included effusive love language.

Connection to others was a recurring theme. Shermer posits that people say what they truly feel and believe in the seconds before their death and then prioritize those emotions and thoughts by what matters most.


I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman