Last Words

by Neil Connelly

Summoned 1100 miles north to witness my mother’s end, I spend the flights fixated on her last words.  In my fiction classes, I mocked the movie scenes where loved ones passed with trite cliches.  I’m proud of you. I’m ready to go. I love you.  Yet now, how I yearned for such hackneyed words.

I found her propped up in her bed, eyes-wide but blank, hair stripped by chemo, sucking in each breath with a sound that made me think of the scuba gear she used on trips to Belize, Truk Lagoon, Caesarea.  I spoke to her about my students, expressed my love and admiration and gratitude.  I repeated insightful things she’d said to me, greedy for more.  The essence of teaching is the sharing of joy . . .Children naturally love.  They must be taught to hate. . .  Now and then, just look at the moon.  She blinked and her chest heaved.  I spooned vanilla pudding into her mouth, past cracked lips.  Seated around her, my father, brother, and I fell silent.

My sister arrived, embraced each of us.  When she asked what air carrier I flew in on, my mother shot straight up.  She clutched my wrist and said, “Neil! I have Delta miles!”  Then just as quickly, she reclined, receding like a wave leaving a beach, back onto her pillows, back into her catatonic state.

Those were her last words.  But for that instant, in her recognizing eyes, I saw all any child could want.


Neil Connelly directed the MFA in Creative Writing at McNeese State University before returning to his home state of Pennsylvania, where he now teaches at Shippensburg University. He lives with his wife, their two sons, and their dog Ginny. See more about him and his work at

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Filed under Nonfiction

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