I've found myself occasionally wondering what my final words will be. It's an important quote, letting history sum up your life and beliefs in one soundbite, and thus deserves a bit of forethought, lest you say something terribly ironic or crass. Most likely, though, we'll have brief flash of insight into our personal doom and manage to only get out a useless "Oh geez".
President William McKinley had six days.
Just before a disillusioned man wrapped a gun in his handkerchief and stood in line to enter the Temple of Music and murder the President, an aide had begged McKinley to be more careful with his security. "Why should I?" McKinley replied. "Who would want to hurt me?" See? If he would have died right away, that would have been just a totally funny and awesome last quote, showing his bravado and foolishness. Except he didn't die.
After the assassin shot him twice in the gut, McKinley slumped down, his suit turning red. "Be careful how you tell my wife." Now THAT'S a great quote. Caring about your wife's emotions in your final breath? Romantic. Much better. But he didn't die.
When the President saw his attacker being violently beaten by his guards, he begged, "Don't let them hurt him!" Great call. Very Christ-like, loving your enemies like that. Except he wasn't nearly dead.
The next day, after awakening from his surgery, McKinley felt much better. "How did they like my speech?," he asked. Throw in a little humor into your last words. Well played. He was strong even through the end, they'd say. But it wasn't the end. In fact, he kept getting better, which had to bring a mix of emotions to the vice-president.
Four days after the shooting, the President ate a little egg and toast, which didn't sit well with the gangrene and infection nobody knew he had. I'm assuming he said something about his gross bodily functions. Luckily, no one wrote that down.
Six days after an anarchist shot him down in Buffalo, William McKinley was at last about to die. He gathered his doctors. “It is useless, gentlemen. I think we ought to have prayer.” Classy move, Will. A bit of a slam on your doctors, but hey, you're about to die so I think you get that privilege. But he wasn't done yapping.
As he slipped into his final sleep, the President pulled the old classic move and sang a hymn. Nearer My God to Thee. Very smooth, resting in your faith like that. Singing a song like that for your last words not only is soothing for yourself, but also gives hope and comfort to your loved ones standing nearby. Some would want a little more patriotism out of their president, like maybe Battle Hymn of the Republic. But I like it. All in all, not a bad one to land on.
The only thing that can go wrong at that point is someone nearby saying something even cooler. A Senator friend got all emotional and yelled out, "Mr. President, can't you hear me? William! Don't you know me?" Geez. Way to say something powerful and really steal the thunder. Now people remember that instead. What a bitch.
Acrylic on oval canvas. 20"x16"