My guest this week is Lisa Smartt. Lisa is a linguist, educator, and poet. She is the author of Words at the Threshold: What We Say When We’re Nearing Death. The book is based on data collected through The Final Words Project, an ongoing study devoted to gathering and interpreting the mysterious language at end of life.
Lisa Smartt, MA, is a linguist, educator, and poet. She is the author of Words at the Threshold: What We Say When We’re Nearing Death (New World Library 2017). The book is based on data collected through The Final Words Project, wwwfinalwordsproject.org, an ongoing study devoted to gathering and interpreting the mysterious language at end of life. She has worked closely with Raymond Moody, guided by his research into language, particularly unintelligible speech. They have co-facilitated presentations about language and consciousness at universities, hospices and conferences.
“It’s very beautiful over there.”
— final words of inventor Thomas Edison
A person’s last words can often be enigmatic, confusing or powerfully meaningful; they can also offer tantalizing clues about the ultimate fate of the human soul. Until now, no author has systematically studied end-of-life communication by collecting and analyzing the final utterances of the terminally ill. When her father faced his final weeks, linguist Lisa Smartt began transcribing his conversations and noticed that both his language and personality underwent inexplicable changes. Smartt’s father, a skeptical man with a secular worldview, developed a deeply spiritual outlook in his final days — a change reflected in his last words. Baffled and intrigued, Smartt began to investigate the near-death utterances of others, collecting over a hundred case studies with interviews and transcripts. In Words at the Threshold, Smartt decodes the symbolism of those last words, showing how the language of the dying points the way to a transcendent world beyond our own.