First Words - Last Words

By Rev. John Scott | 2024-04-18 | 5 min read

Having been an attorney in Kentucky for over fifty years, I can now look back at the approximately 8,000 Wills I wrote for clients during my career. More than a few of those were “deathbed Wills” where people would wait until the very last minute to finally get around to making a Will. The most memorable “deathbed Will” I wrote was for a client who had known for years he needed a Will but kept putting it off. This client was a widower who had five children, ages 6 through 18, and since his wife had died a few years earlier in an automobile accident, he was the sole provider for these children. On several occasions, he and I had discussed what would happen to the children upon his death, but he could never make up his mind on how to handle the situation.

Then one day, I received a phone call telling me that Mr. “Jones” was in the hospital in Louisville (about 50 miles from my office), and most likely had only hours to live. He had requested that I come to the hospital to write his Will. When I arrived, Mr. “Jones” was in a hospital bed in ICU with an oxygen tube in his nose and several tubes going in and out of his body. He was coherent and desperate to talk to me about writing his Will. He said that the most important thing he wanted in his Will was to make sure his five children were kept together after his death, and to have his 18 year old daughter made guardian for the four younger children. I knew his daughter to be a very mature young woman, but I was hesitant to saddle anyone so young with this enormous obligation. The daughter was present and she and I went out in the hall and discussed her father’s wish, and she assured me she wanted to do this. She said that if this could not be accomplished, she was sure the younger children would be sent to Missouri to reside with her late mother’s family and the older children would be left there in Kentucky, which was exactly what her father wanted to avoid.

So I went back to Mr. Jones’ bedside and handwrote his last wishes, and he signed the document before 2 witnesses . His last words to me were:” Mr. Scott, please make sure my children are not separated!” I assured him I would do my best to honor that wish. Mr. Jones died within hours after our conversation. After settling his estate, and having his daughter appointed guardian to raise her siblings, I lost touch with the family over the years.

Skip forward 20 years and I’m portraying a figure in a Historic Walking Tour for visitors to our Kentucky town, as I’d done for over 30 years. (I played the role of a wealthy scoundrel who swindled rich people out of their fortunes). At the conclusion of my spiel, a woman came out of the audience and approached me and asked if she could give me a hug. I had no idea who she was, but I said: “Well sure”. She told me she was the daughter of Mr. Jones and that she had raised her four siblings to adulthood and they had stayed together as her father had wanted, and she wanted to thank me for helping her accomplish that and honor her father’s last request.

When thinking about memorable “last words”, the last words spoken by another Kentuckian, Alben Barkley, come to mind. Barkley had served in the U.S Senate and also as Vice President of our country back in the 1950’s. After his term as V.P. ended, Barkley ran again for a Senate seat and rejoined the Senate as a “freshman senator”. Soon thereafter, he made a speech at Washington and Lee University and at the conclusion of that speech, in referring to now being a junior senator from Kentucky after having recently chaired the Senate from time to time as V.P., he ended his speech with these prophetic words: “ I am glad to sit on the back row, for I would rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty!” Then as Senator Barkley acknowledged the applause of the audience, he dropped dead.

Just recently, as we rejoiced with the Easter season and the resurrection of our Lord, I am reminded of the last words of Christ on the Cross, where he cried out: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

We may not be as fortunate as these three persons to conclude our earthly lives with last words that are so important and meaningful. However, we should nevertheless live our lives so that whenever our time comes to pass to the heavenly realm, whatever our last words may be, our friends and family can say of us and repeat the words of the Lord in Matthew 25:23, when He said: “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

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