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A Piece of My Mind
April 12, 2006

Last Words

Author Affiliations

A Piece of My Mind Section Editor: Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2006;295(14):1624. doi:10.1001/jama.295.14.1624

Mehr Licht was the name of the camp,” Dad said. “It means ‘more light’ in German.” I was a boy, and Dad was driving us past a lake in Vermont where he’d spent his youthful summers. He explained, “Mehr Licht were the last words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.” That was when I first learned last words could matter.

People reflect on last words, for their many meanings. Sometimes people see the life course or values of the speaker. Sometimes they feel emotions. I do. I love Nathan Hale for his eternal patriotic statement, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Last words can brighten or darken our memories of people. We invite final statements from condemned criminals that we consider alongside their crimes, a balance, perhaps, for their souls and families.

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