Several years ago, my friend and Relief Society president concluded a year-long process of ministering to a terminally ill sister in our ward. For her first Sunday lesson following the funeral, my friend gave inspired counsel—things she learned during the final days of this less-active sister's life. There were several powerful takeaways from her lesson, but the one that touched me the most was the suggestion to write last words for your loved ones. The Spirit confirmed to me the importance of this exercise. That said, I dreaded what I knew would be an emotionally taxing experience. But after a good, long, ugly cry my task was complete. Since then I've had another baby, so I sat down recently and wrote last words for my youngest son. While it's a solemn topic, I know that it can be a wonderful spiritual experience. I would like to share five reasons why you should consider writing last words for your own loved ones.
1. A PATTERN AFTER THE PROPHETS
When you start to look for them, you will find last words all throughout the scriptures. Here are a couple examples:
Nephi finished his record with this message: “I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus…hearken unto these words and believe in Christ…for they are the words of Christ.” (1)
In Ether, we read, “Now the last words which are written by Ether are these: Whether the Lord will that I be translated, or that I suffer the will of the Lord in the flesh, it mattereth not, if it so be that I am saved in the kingdom of God.” (2)
Even Sherem, who was not a prophet but the first anti-Christ in the Book of Mormon, had last words to share with the people before he passed away. “Gather together on the morrow, for I shall die; wherefore, I desire to speak unto the people…and he spake plainly unto them…and confessed the Christ, and the power of the Holy Ghost, and the ministering of angels.” (3)
While journals, family and personal histories, and other documents are valuable in recording and expressing your beliefs and personal feelings for your loved ones, there is something remarkable about leaving a deliberate, final message for your family that, in essence, says, “This is what it all comes down to; this is what's most important.” If the prophets (and others) in the scriptures were impressed to leave last words and teachings for the benefit of others, we can, too.
2. TIME IS SHORT AND UNCERTAIN
A quote on a TV program the other day said it best, “The only guarantee we have in life is that it will one day end.” The uncertainty of when it will end should propel us, without delay, to prepare for the one certainty we know will eventually come for each of us.
Some people may think that the diagnosis of a terminal illness is a good time to get one’s affairs in order. To that I would say: yes and no. Take the example of the less-active sister in my previous ward. She was sick with cancer and, even on her good days, often had to put off making the kinds of preparations she wanted to, including documenting farewells for her husband and children.
President Monson admonished, “The old adage ‘Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today’ is doubly important when it comes to expressing our love and affection—in word and in deed—to family members and friends.” (4) If writing last words for your loved ones is something you feel prompted to do, please don't wait. Make it a priority and do it.
3. THE LAUNDRY APPROACH
The good news is that there's no right or wrong way to leave your last words. It's kind of like laundry. I prefer to do the laundry all at once instead of doing a little bit every day. I wrote my last words the same way. I dedicated an evening to doing it when my husband wasn't going to be home. I cautioned him I might be a blubbering mess when he returned but not to panic. After praying for the Spirit's guidance, I spent two and a half hours that first night and only got through my two oldest children. Consequently, I had to set aside another evening to write letters to my two younger children. Yet for me, that was still better than a long, drawn out process spanning four separate occasions! I also chose to leave handwritten letters for my children so they would each have something physical to hold on to and keep with them; something they can pull out and read whenever they want to. But you may decide to write just one collective letter to the entire family, and you certainly aren't limited by just pen and paper. You could create a voice message or a video recording. Like laundry, it's not important how you do it, just that it gets done!
4. UNEXPECTED PEACE
Drawing up a will, securing guardians, and creating a funeral plan are one thing. But how do you say goodbye to your babies—those precious spirits you helped bring into the world? It was excruciating just to consider missing significant milestones in my children's lives, let alone all the other days in between. However, as difficult as this process was, I'm so grateful I finished it. Writing last words for my children was a special experience in ways I had never considered before. As a result, this unique act provided an incredible source of peace I never expected but gratefully welcomed. The promise that we shall not fear or worry when we are prepared is especially true when leaving last words for our loved ones. (5)
5. THE ULTIMATE GIFT
Just as having adequate life insurance is a blessing for your loved ones, leaving last words will offer encouragement, comfort, and counsel and will help soften the emotional, mental, and spiritual hardship that will come with your passing.
I don't ever want my children to wonder if I loved them and what I hoped for them. I don't want them to question if they made me proud. And I don't ever want them to doubt my testimony of the Savior or the restored gospel. Even though I testify of and share these things often with my children, I know that time forges on after someone has departed, and it can become challenging to remember the person who has passed.
An old Chinese proverb says, "The weakest ink is better than the strongest memory." The very act of recording your tender feelings about your children while also declaring your testimony of the Savior and His Atonement is a monumental way to express your love for them. Your unexpected words will be a priceless and timeless gift. I imagine my children in speechless awe when they realize their mom contemplated how the trial of her death would impact her children and chose to do something about it. Your last words will bring them indescribable peace, solace, strength, and reassurance of your devotion and love for them—for as long as they need it.
A few of my last words…
I love you, Jacob. Chin up, Sweetheart. Smile for me. Help Dad. It will be hard on him, too. Love Cooper. Be his buddy. Take care of Karcyn—protect her. Baptize Calvin and help him remember me. You make me so proud and honor me with all the good that you do.
I love you, Cooper. You are the son we chose to name after my grandparents that I loved to my very core. And now I get to be with them again. Don't ever take your eyes off the temple! Do whatever you have to do to get there worthily and keep going back so we can be together again.
I love you, Karcyn. You are pure sunshine. I feel so blessed to have been a part of your life—even if just for a little while. The gospel is everything! Embrace it. Be grateful for it. You are a daughter of God, who loved you before I did.
I love you, Calvin. You light up whatever space you are in. Sweet boy—life isn't easy. Life isn't fair. But this is the only life we get, so make it the best you can by becoming the son of God I know you are and I will be the proudest mom ever.
In 2 Nephi 25:23, Nephi explained that “we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children…to believe in Christ and be reconciled to God.” I believe that the expression of your testimony and affection from the deepest corners of your heart will be “as the voice of one crying from the dust,” (6) lifting, healing and positively impacting not just those for whom you specifically wrote, but future generations, as well.
1. 2 Nephi 33: 6, 10
2. Ether 15:34
3. Jacob 7: 16-17
4. "Treasure of Eternal Value," Ensign, April 2008
5. Doctrine and Covenants 38:30
6. 2 Nephi 33:13
Jenn Hough is a recent transplant to Texas after living in Oregon for ten years and so far, she loves being in the south! She currently serves as Relief Society president in the College Station 3rd ward. Jenn grew up in Utah, Georgia, and even Alaska where she graduated from high school. She married her college sweetheart, Jared, in 1997, and earned her bachelor's degree from Weber State University in elementary education in 1999. She is the proud mom of five incredible children who keep her on her toes and on her knees!