Until someone figures out a way to defrost Walt Disney, we all currently only have one life to life—and how it ends usually isn’t up to us. Sure we can hope for a Hollywood ending surrounded by loved ones as some sort of profound wisdom slips out with our last breath but, as you will see in these Redditor’s stories, fate usually has other plans.
So grab a box of tissues, make sure you’re not surrounded by people you don’t want to see you cry, and dive in!
1. Regrets, She’s Had A Few…
I’m a paramedic and I was called to the casino for someone with chest pain. I got there to find a man in his 60s who was a very pale grey, pouring sweat, and in level 10 out of 10 pain. I put him on the monitor and he had tombstone elevation in his septal leads—they call it tombstone elevation for a reason. He was having a massive heart attack.
His wife was there and she was getting ready to come along with us. I was helping her step into the ambulance and she realized that she didn’t get her cashout voucher from the slot machine. I’m not a casino guy, but I guess they pay out in paper slips. Anyway, she says “I have to go back and get it”. I said, “We’re leaving now and you should REALLY come with us.”
She didn’t seem to understand me. Finally, I said, “Your husband could die tonight”. She replied, “Well, I’ll be right behind you in my car”. Biggest mistake of her life. You guessed it. Her husband perished on the way to the hospital and the last thing he said was, “Where’s Helen”?
2. Our Deepest Fear
As someone who works as a hospice caregiver and primarily deals with the terminally ill, I’ve seen and heard a lot of sad things. The most heartbreaking was a beautiful woman with no family and who'd lived a very cruel life. Her parents passed when she was very young, she grew up in poverty, and eventually, she left Korea to marry an American GI.
Her husband ended up mistreating her for years until she finally left him. She struggled to get by as a waitress, and for most of her life, she lived alone. She had no friends and no family. I sat there in the hospice holding her hand and crying as she suffered from the final stages of pancreatic cancer. I will never forget the last thing she said to me…
“Don’t cry. My next life will be a happy one”. It was the most heartbreaking statement I’ve ever heard from any of my patients.
3. Above And Waaaay Beyond
When I worked as a nurse in a pediatric ICU, we had an infant who had been dropped off by her parents and left there. There are some hospitals where you can do this and, yes, it’s legal. The child, who had a non-operable brain tumor, cried and moaned all through the day and night. Everyone knew she wasn’t going to make it.
One day I was in her room and I decided to pick her up and start dancing around the room with her while trying to avoid getting caught in all the wires. I started singing a Beatles song (even though I can’t sing at all) and told her not to laugh at me. Her crying stopped and she let out a small giggle. From then on, I was the only one who could make her stop crying. Right then, I knew what I had to do.
I had all of the paperwork done to adopt her and she stayed with me until she slipped away. I feel some comfort in the fact that she didn’t spend the rest of her life in the hospital and I could sing her to sleep every night. I left the pediatric ICU after that, but I still think about her all the time.
4. Brave ’Til The End
My sister, who's a nurse, had a male patient in his late 80s who only had a few days left to live. I don’t remember what he had, but it was a painful disease. My sister said that he was always pleasant and would never show a sign of pain until someone left the room. She knew this because she once forgot something in his room and caught him suffering.
Anyway, this man had a very loving wife, and they had been together for over 60 years. My sister was in the room with both of them and they were all joking around. The man asked his wife to go fetch him a glass of water. My sister offered to get it, but he refused. He said, “She needs to get out of here for a little bit. It’s stuffy”.
His wife agreed. He thanked her and told her how much he loved her. After she left the room, the man asked my sister if his wife was gone. When my sister confirmed that she was, he said the most heartbreaking words: “Let her know she was the best thing that ever happened to me". He closed his eyes, and within a minute, he was gone.
5. A Heartbreaking Profession
I worked in a pediatric ICU for five years. Many of the kiddos were too young to talk, but the one that I remember the most was a boy with end-stage cystic fibrosis. He had caught the flu and it really knocked him out. His mom ordered maximum interventions, but every time respiratory therapists went into his room, he asked them to just let him perish.
I sat at the nursing station across from his room and listened to him scream through an oxygen mask—begging God to take him. One day, he just lost his battle. I imagine it was the first moment of peace he had had in weeks. Two years later, I started dating an adult man with cystic fibrosis. I still hear that kid in my nightmares.
6. A Hug In A Mug
I worked at my local hospital serving drinks and food to patients during my college years. There was one female patient in oncology who was posh, proud, and a little cranky. When I first asked her what she wanted to drink, she asked for an espresso. My drink cart only had regular coffee, tea, and soda, but we had espresso in the doctor’s lounge, so I got her one.
After that, I continued to get her an espresso every night that I worked in oncology, and we always had a little chat. I felt sorry for her because she never had any visitors. Once I got to know her, I saw that she really was quite sweet. After two months, her condition became much worse, but she still wanted her espresso—just to smell it, she said.
One night, it was close to Christmas and the hospital was almost deserted, I was working at another department when one of my coworkers came looking for me. He said some cranky lady in oncology had asked for me. I immediately knew who it was, and visited the doctor’s lounge on my way there. When I walked in with my espresso, the room had an ominous smell.
She was a little pile of misery in that big hospital bed. I walked up to her and put the espresso on the nightstand. She grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes. “I know you weren’t allowed to bring me those espressos, but you did, and you always took the time to talk to me. You gave me more kindness than anyone close to me has in the last couple of years. Don’t forget that it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day”.
I sat with her until she drifted off to sleep. The next time I went to her room, she was gone. The nurse said she’d passed on the same night I had brought her that last espresso. I still think about her every now and then, especially around Christmas. It sounds silly, but I really took her advice to heart. Even though it’s pretty obvious, my memory of her always gives me that extra push when I’m hesitant to go out of my way to help others.
7. Life Can Change In An Instant
I used to work as a first responder and one time I was coming back from a vacation with my family and we saw a car on its side at the edge of the highway. It was very foggy and not many people were on the road, so we stopped. My wife called 9-1-1 while I grabbed my jump bag, which I always keep with me, and went to check out the scene.
There was an old married couple in the car. The husband was battered but ambulatory and the wife was unresponsive—not breathing and hanging upside down by her seatbelt. We moved him to the side of the car where he could not see his wife and then we got her out and on the ground. I continued CPR but she was unresponsive.
Finally, another car stopped and I was able to get someone else to continue CPR while I tried to intubate, which was proving to be challenging. Finally, the ambulance arrived, but there was no paramedic and the EMT was a bit clueless. They actually had me load up with them to continue CPR while attempting intubation again on the way to the hospital.
About five minutes into the ambulance ride she came back. We calmed her down and she just looked off into space and said, “He’ll be so alone.” A few minutes later she was gone again. We got her intubated but found out she passed shortly after arriving at the hospital. Out of a lot of calls, that one sticks with me. This couple had been together for almost all their lives and now, just like that, she’s gone.
No goodbye. At least her last thoughts were of him.
8. Dancing Days Are Here Again
My maternal grandparents had a fantastic marriage and they adored each other. My mom’s Papa passed in 1970 and her Mama passed in 1993. My mom said that when she was a kid she used to get a bit scared because she often heard her Mama talking to her Papa as if he were still there. She would overhear her Mama saying things like, “Oh, I wish you were still here with me my darling, I miss you so much”.
Mama was 90 when she went to live in a nursing home. She had started to get dementia, but she still talked to Papa often. My mother went to visit her one day and her Mama was very happy. She said, “Papa visited me today! He is going to take me dancing tonight”! She was very excited and it was all she would talk about. My mother thought she must have been confused because of her dementia.
That night, the nursing home called with some heartbreakingly uncanny news: Mama had passed in her chair, listening to her favorite dancing records. It always gives me a little chill when I think of that, but in a nice way.
9. Sweet Sorrow
I work as an EMT and one day I responded to a call where a man was struggling to breathe. He was experiencing agonal breathing, which means that his heart and body were in the process of shutting down and it would be a matter of minutes before he perished. His wife was the one who had called. She said they had been married for the last 50+ years.
She also said he had been battling cancer for the last seven. He was on hospice and we confirmed with her that he was a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). So, we stayed with her and waited for him to expire. At one point he stopped breathing and his pulse slowed but then it started again. His wife kissed him on the head and with tears in her eyes she said, “It’s OK, baby, you can go. I love you”.
The man slipped away right after that. It was touching, to say the least, and I still remember it vividly to this day.
10. The Best Sound In The World
My grandfather was nearing the end of his battle with lung cancer and was in his bed at home with hospice care. We all knew it would be soon, and as were gathered around him, he woke up and said, “PURRRRRRR”… At first, we thought it was just a gurgle, but then the truth dawned on us. He was calling for his cat named “Purr”.
We went and got his cat for him and he stroked Purr one last time while closing his eyes. He just nodded off like that with a huge grin on his face. I will cherish that memory forever.
11. When You Least Expect It
I work in intensive care and have quite a few stories. One time, we had a patient perish and the doc pronounced. The person laid there for quite some time afterward. Eventually, I asked my coworker for help to place the patient in a body bag. We went into the room, removed all the electrodes, and then we got the shock of our lives.
This patient just sat straight up in the bed for about five seconds then laid back down. I looked at my coworker and said, “Did you just see what I saw”? It was the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen. Even though I’d heard about these things happening—some sort of flux of chemicals can cause this—I had never actually seen it. I think it’s supposed to happen within a few minutes of demise, but this was a decent amount of time after.
It was extremely unsettling.
12. A New Mother Cries
My grandmother had been in the hospital for a couple of months and we all knew the end was near. She had been in and out of consciousness for about five days and the docs told us to be prepared for her passing. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time and I ended up going into labor while my grandmother was in the ICU.
When I went in to give birth, my sister went up to visit my grandmother and told her that I was having the baby. After my daughter was born, I asked if I could take her to see Nanny. When we brought her in, Nanny was unconscious, but then she opened her eyes and said, “The baby is here. Is she is safe? Are you safe”?
I replied, “Yes, Nanny. She’s just fine and I’m OK, too”. To which she replied, “I can go now. I love you!” She then fell into a deep coma and passed the following morning. A new life came into the world and another left. Nothing has ever stuck with me as much as that moment.
13. A Good Question
I’m an explosive ordinance disposal tech in the army, and these are the saddest last words I remember. This happened to my best friend and I still remember it like it was yesterday. I got to his side and knew that there was no way he was going to make it. He was bleeding too much, and his breathing was getting shorter and faster, which is never a good sign.
He looked me directly in the eyes, said my name, paused, and then asked, “What are we doing here”? I looked back at him and said, “Friend, I don’t know”. He gave a ragged sigh and said, “What a waste”. Those were his last words. This is a story that I will definitely recount to my children if they ever consider joining the service.
I’ll tell it to everyone who considers supporting a battle with no real enemy nor purpose. If I can help it, this will be my last tour in service.
14. The Best Of What’s Around
I’m a pediatric oncology nurse, and in the bone marrow transplant unit, kids tend to stay with us for months on end. They may go home for a few days, but they often spend over a year of their lives in the unit. I had a 15-year-old patient who had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He was an old soul and I connected with him and his family immediately.
I was there with him for three 12-hour shifts a week for almost a year. I watched him go through dreadful chemo and a horrendous bone marrow transplant that caused weeks of pain and rejection. I even spent his 16th birthday with him and his family and friends on the unit. After months of treatment, he finally went into remission, but quickly relapsed.
He was too weak and mentally exhausted for any further treatment at that time so he decided to forego another attempt at a transplant. That meant that he would perish. He accepted it with more courage than most grown men. While he still had some energy, he decided to use the Make-A-Wish that he had been saving for when he was better.
He had always been a huge fan of the Dave Matthews Band. He had posters on his walls and played the albums constantly. He decided that his Make-A-Wish experience would be to go see the Dave Matthews Band play a live show at Madison Square Garden in NYC. He made it to New York, but on the day of the show, disaster struck.
He was too sick. He had to be admitted to the hospital there for a blood transfusion, which caused him to miss the show completely. He and his family returned home the next day—disappointed and feeling worse than ever. He had gotten to the point of needing almost daily transfusions just to stay alive. He was thin, frail, weak, and nearing the end.
He had become a shell of the strong, hilarious, and amazing kid I met a year before. At this point, he was receiving palliative care only. About a week after he and his family returned from NYC, we learned that the Dave Matthews Band had a show scheduled at the stadium in our city. Somehow Dave Matthews found out about the Make-A-Wish failure. He decided to take the situation into his own hands.
Following their show for 40,000+ fans at the stadium, Dave Matthews and his entire band drove their tour bus over to this kid’s house, sat on his couch with him, and played all of his favorite songs. His mom sent us pictures of him and Dave Matthews holding guitars on their couch. His hollow, pale cheeks were beaming with happiness.
My dear patient and friend slipped away the next day, content and fulfilled. I now work in hospice and I share this story with all of my colleagues and patients. I have yet to get through telling it without shedding a few tears.
15. An Alaskan Nightmare
I was a volunteer EMT in a remote Alaskan community and was responding to a call for someone with third-degree burns. Apparently, some kid had been living in an abandoned shack and using a propane heater to warm the place, but it caught fire leaving him with bad burns on his face and scalp, and full-circumference burns on his hands and wrists. His clothes had melted and stuck to his body. He was a total mess.
We had to snowmobile the patient to the ambulance and then drive about two miles to the hospital. With so many suspected burns in his airway, we tried to get some info from him before they knocked him out and intubated him. This kid had no one, not a soul, in town or anywhere else. He was a total loner.
Then, just before the doctor knocked him out, he asked about his place. We told him it was totally gone. “My poems”! he screamed. I felt awful for him. I stuck around and got him on the medevac to Seattle since there is no burn ward in all of Alaska. In the morning, I went to the ashes of the structure, which were still smoking, and looked around.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything that made it, least of all any poetry. A while later, I asked around and someone let me know that he needed grafting on his hands and likely won’t be the same for years (if ever), but he did make it.
16. Listen To Your Doctor
My sister is a physician and she told me that most patients are not really lucid right before they expire. They may be unable to speak at all or, if they can speak, they may only be able to mumble incoherently. Their last moment of real clarity might have happened the day before or even days or weeks prior, and what follows that is the final slow and inevitable decay.
I say this because it really upsets my sister when so few families seem to understand that the end of life isn’t like what they see in the movies. The families often think that they’ll be able to talk to their loved ones right up until the final moments. These families then get frustrated because they can no longer speak with their loved ones and they don’t get closure.
My sister told me one story about a young patient of hers who was close to the end. This patient’s wife could not understand that even though her husband was going to lose consciousness very soon, it would take him several more days to perish. So, instead of spending the extra time talking to her husband, this woman told him she’d be back the next day.
Despite my sister’s repeated warnings that the husband would not wake up again and these were probably his last good moments, the woman left the hospital. The man wasn’t ever conscious again. This woman lost out on her last opportunity to truly speak with her husband, not to mention how alone he must have felt when she left.
I just felt like I should share this because I don’t want anyone to get the impression that the moments right before the end are necessarily the ones that count the most.
17. One Very Powerful Four-Letter Word
I once met a man in a mental hospital who told me the story of how he was first admitted. He had been depressed for years and decided to drive to a dead-end road on a mountainside. He spent a few hours sitting atop a small hill and decided that this was the day he wanted to end it all. He didn’t know how to do it until he spotted some headlights further down the mountain.
He walked down to the hill and stood in the middle of the road. He picked a spot where there was a sharp turn so that the next car that came by wouldn’t see him until it was too late. After a minute or so of standing there with his eyes closed, a car finally came around the turn, but all he heard was a screeching and a loud crash. His plan had gone horribly wrong.
The driver had seen him at the last minute and took the turn too wide so that he could avoid him. Unfortunately, this sent the car over the edge of a cliff and down a hundred-foot-drop. The man climbed down the ravine and found the car wrecked with the driver, an older man, bleeding and trapped between the twisted metal.
He called 9-1-1 and waited with the old man as he perished. The old man only said one word before he started coughing up blood: “Live”. The guy who caused the accident was put into the mental hospital and was never charged for anything related to the old man. After that, he also gave up any idea of ever hurting himself again.
He felt he owed that man a debt and that he was obligated to pay for his sacrifice by living as long as he possibly could. After hearing that story, just that one final word has stuck with me so much—even though I wasn’t there to hear it. It convinced me that my self-harm would have collateral damage even if I didn’t realize it at the time.
18. Real Talk
I’ve never told anybody this story before. In May, my mother succumbed to cancer. I go to school out of state and wasn’t able to be there for her final moments, but I did see her the weekend before. The last time I saw her was because I had had several phone calls from my father saying something along the lines of “You’d better make it up here. Your mother doesn’t have much time”.
Each time I flew in, her condition had improved, so I’d fly back to university the next day. On this last trip, I flew home that afternoon, saw my mother, stayed the night, and was set to fly back to school the next morning. Naturally, I thought I’d visit the hospital one last time before I dropped off the rental car at the airport.
Unfortunately, she’d deteriorated overnight. She could barely string a sentence together without breathing heavily and she couldn’t look at me. To call her a husk of the woman she had been even a month before would be an understatement. Anyway, I talked to her as much as was possible, we said our goodbyes, and I turned to leave.
I was already running late, but I turned back to say goodbye. She was fully focused on me, looking me square in the eye. She said, “Bye”. I impatiently said, “Bye, bye” and turned around and scuttled off. As I was driving to the airport, it hit me—that wasn’t any ordinary goodbye, that was the last goodbye. And holy shiitake mushrooms, I had just brushed off my mother’s final goodbye for the sake of catching some stupid flight.
I couldn’t (and still can’t) fathom my selfishness. Sure enough, a week later, I got the call that she had finally passed. Never will I get another opportunity to say goodbye again. I’m going to forever live with the knowledge that I prioritized catching a flight over properly saying goodbye to my mother. Feels bad, man.
19. Hope They’re Bitin’
My friend’s awesome grandmother in South Dakota was a long-time widow who had been married to a man named Rudy. She got sick at the end of her life and fell into a coma shortly after she was hospitalized. She was clearly circling the drain, but after several days, she unexpectedly came out of her coma. She was completely lucid when she uttered her last words.
She told her daughter, “Tell the family I love them all. I’m going fishing with Rudy in heaven”. She then closed her eyes, went back into the coma, and took her last breath.
20. Out Of The Mouths of Babes
When I was a med student, I saw a 16-year-old boy with end-stage brain cancer where the tumor had grown so large that it was deforming the back of his head. He was quite close to dying. As the pediatric oncologist, his parents, and I were all struggling to find the words to comfort him, he was by far the most comfortable and accepting of his fate.
His voice sounded like an adolescent but his words were far more mature and calm than anyone else’s in the room. And, as all of us were holding back tears, all he was concerned with was that his parents weren’t sad, that his little brother was OK, and that he wanted everyone to give his dog a kiss. It was heartbreaking and hopeful all in one breath.
21. Wise Beyond Her Years
My mom, who is a doctor, told me a story about a 15-year-old girl who had cancer. My mom encountered the girl during her residency, and this girl had begged her parents not to put her through cancer treatment. Instead, she wanted to use the money they would have spent on treatment to travel the world and go on adventures like she’d always dreamed of.
This girl didn’t want to survive and live miserably for a long time, she wanted to live fully during the little time that she had. I couldn’t get over how mature she was for a girl that age. Most adults don’t even think that way. Anyway, before she passed, she said two things that stuck with my mom forever.
All of her friends and family were huddled around her in tears. This girl just smiled and said, “Don’t be sad for me. I’ve done all I would have in a longer life and didn’t even have to deal with all of that terribly boring grownup stuff. And I’m about to solve the biggest mystery of them all. How exciting”! She said this about an hour before she succumbed to the disease.
Just before the end, she told the story of Robin Hood, which was her favorite story. The way she told it, the last thing she said was, “And he died happily…” It was the last thing she ever said before she slipped away. That girl is the bravest, happiest, and most spirited person I’ve ever heard of.
22. He Did It All For Love
I work in the intensive care unit and one time we had a man come in with a COPD exacerbation. He was about 60 years old and had to be put on a ventilator. After a week, it was clear that this man would have to spend the rest of his life on life support. We asked him if he wanted to withdraw care because ventilator therapy is not only gruesome but also extremely painful.
We said, “Do you want us to continue using the ventilator? Your lung function is so poor that you won’t be able to live without it”. He asked us what day it was by writing on a piece of paper since he was unable to speak. We told him and he then wrote down a date that was about six months away. We looked at him quizzically.
He then wrote that he got married six months ago and his new wife will not be able to get his benefits unless they are married for a year. Before he passed, his last note was: “I love E”. His wife’s name started with an E.
23. All I Want For Christmas…
I used to work in food and nutrition at a large hospital. Over the holidays, I would play Santa Claus and visit all of the pediatric units. One time I visited with this little girl who will always stick with me. She was 11 years old and past the age of believing in Santa, but her face totally lit up when I came into the room.
Her parents stepped out of the room for a minute and she told me that she knew she wasn’t going to make it too long past the holidays. She said that all she wanted was to be able to make it through for her parents and her little brother. She did not want Christmas to be associated with her passing, so she asked Santa to do anything he possibly could to make that happen.
Santa damn near lost it right there and then. I later found out that she had passed a week into the New Year. Santa really did lose it then.
24. One Tough Realization
I was in a high school program called “health occupations”, which was basically nurse assistant training. For part of it, I had to do 35 hours of community service at an old folks' home. While I was there, I noticed a group of nurses gathered around a specific room. I went over and there was a man in his late 50s laying there.
He was so skinny and wrinkled, and he was shaking uncontrollably. His eyes rolled up into his head as he went in and out of consciousness. He had a wet cloth over his forehead and was hooked up to some kind of machine. I broke down crying, which I wasn’t supposed to do, while everyone else stayed calm. I left the room and talked to one of the nurses.
Apparently, he had been like shaking like that for days, just holding on. She told me that he had no family—not even a documented record of family. He was completely alone. I wasn’t allowed to stay in the room because I was there to complete duties, but I so desperately wanted to hold his hand. By the end of the day he had lost his battle, alone, and I hadn’t been able to help.
No one showed up to say goodbye or even claim his body. That was the day I made the most devastating realization: I was too empathetic to work in the health field. I knew it would destroy me.
25. Magic Moment
My grandfather always used to talk about how much he loved his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but it wasn’t until he was nearing the end that I realized how much he actually meant it. I don’t live close to home and I knew my grandfather had been sick. One night my dad called me to tell me that if I wanted to see Grandpa one last time I should come home soon.
The next morning my wife, baby, and I drove in to visit him. There were probably 20 people in his room and Grandpa was resting quietly in the bed. When we came in, one of my aunts told me that he hadn’t spoken to anyone or moved for hours, so I shouldn’t be offended if he didn’t acknowledge me. I walked over to his bed with my wife and one-year-old son.
My son reached up and grabbed Grandpa’s finger. A moment later, feeling the little fingers on his hand, Grandpa smiled and turned his head to see my baby. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Grandpa passed in his sleep that night.
26. Amazing Grace
As a nurse, I’ve witnessed some terrible endings, but the most beautiful one is still quite clear in my head. It’s not what the patient said so much as the choices he made and how his loved ones responded. One early morning in the intensive care unit, there was an elderly man who had been placed on comfort care the night before.
This man had managed to beat cancer about 20 years before, but this time he and his family knew that the end was near. He expressed his preference to succumb to his disease in relative comfort instead of prolonging the course with a painful operation that was unlikely to help him. As he drifted into unconsciousness and his vitals worsened, his large family gathered beside his bed.
As the sun rose over Mount Rainier and began to light up his room, his family joined hands and sang his favorite hymns for the final hour of his life. Let me just say, there were a lot of tears at the nurses' station that morning.
27. There’s Always Room For Jello
I’m a lifeguard and one of my instructors told us this story when he was giving us a lecture about how to deal with fatalities. It happened shortly after he had entered nursing and, for some reason, he was stationed in a ward for the terminally ill. He was relatively new there and learned that one of the patients he attended to was nearing the end.
Now, this was one of those situations where the man’s time was up. No one thing was going wrong, just all of his body systems were shutting down. The guy knew it and he was pretty much ready. The nurse walked in and started talking to him and asking the typical questions about whether he had family or friends whom they could contact for him.
The old man didn’t have anyone. The nurse asked if there was anything that they could do for him. The old man thought for a second before looking at the nurse and saying, “I’ve kinda been craving jello all day”. The nurse shouted out, “You’ve got it”! and sprinted to the cafeteria. He walked into the kitchen and announced that he had a fading man with a last request for jello.
The next thing you know, they’ve assembled a smorgasbord of jello in every flavor across the spectrum. They brought it to the old man and his eyes lit up like Christmas lights. As he started eating, he looked at the nurse and said, “I know you have more important patients to attend to. I’ll let you know if there’s anything else I need”.
So the nurse left and started making his rounds. At one point he passed the old man’s room and poked his head in. The old man, jello and spoon in hand, smiled and flashed him a thumbs up. The nurse smiled and returned it, and then left. About 30 seconds later, he heard the sounds of the man’s alarms and machines flatlining.
28. Small Gestures, Huge Impact
I was really close with my grandparents. I lived with them in high school and throughout college up until I moved in with my girlfriend. I experienced two moments with them that were quite defining. My grandfather was 98 when his health started to decline, and about a month before he passed, he was very weak and could hardly hold his head up.
When I went into his room to visit him, he was sitting in his recliner, and I had to kneel down to look him in the eyes. He said he just wanted to hold my hand. So I just held his hand and told him I loved him. He nodded and I think we both knew his time was almost up. When he put his hand on my head and held it there, I broke down.
A month later, we brought him home from the hospital. He was very delusional, but he perked up, sat up in bed, looked around, and said, “I don’t have your picture in here”. My grandmother rushed out of the room and brought in a portrait of me in kindergarten—I was 24 at the time—and that made him so happy. Right after that, he started laughing.
He pointed to the air between me and the portrait—and said something a little unsettling: “I see an apparition”. Apparently, he could see a man’s head floating next to me. Everyone else was kind of creeped out, but he and I thought it was hilarious. Later that afternoon, he fell asleep and the following morning he passed. I was in his room with him and the silence woke me up.
When my grandmother’s time eventually came, she had a massive stroke. Even though she was awake after it, she couldn’t talk or move much. She was able to grab with one hand and her eyes were very active. When I walked into the ER, she looked straight at me and reached out to me—my whole family was in there and she didn’t do that for any of them.
Before that had happened, I had always worried that my having a child outside of marriage made my grandmother lose her respect for me. She lost her battle about a week later, but that one gesture is what I will always hold on to.
29. Expect The Unexpected
My grandparents always expected my grandmother to go soon after my grandfather. So when my grandmother passed first, it was a shock to us all—especially my grandfather who had no plans for what to do in the event that she went first. His mind had been slipping for quite a while, but he used to tell us stories about how after she was gone he could still see her.
His heath and lucidity declined fairly rapidly after her passing. About a year and a half after my grandmother passed, my grandfather had some chest pain and his live-in nurse took him to the ER. At that time, my mother was on a cruise ship halfway to Europe on the first vacation she’d taken in years, and I was in midterms.
The ER doctor called me, explained the situation, and said that my grandfather was completely stable. I asked if I should hop on a plane down there or try to get a hold of my mother. The doctor said to not bother coming down or upsetting my mother’s vacation because it was likely my grandfather would be heading home in the morning.
I reluctantly stayed home but kept in close contact with his live-in nurse who was staying at the hospital in shifts with some other family friends. That night, I went to bed at about 2:00 am and woke up at exactly 5:20 am, for no reason. I remember looking at my clock and thinking how odd it was that I’d woken up after only a few hours of sleep.
I tried to shrug it off and eventually fell back to sleep. At 6:00 am my phone rang. It was a nurse from the hospital telling me that at 5:15 my grandfather had said, “I have to go find the room where my wife is”. He then closed his eyes and slipped away. I feel absolutely terrible that I wasn’t there for him. I felt even worse that I had to tell my mom.
I called her via satellite phone and told her that her father was gone. It was pretty hard for her to be stranded on a ship in the middle of nowhere, unable to do anything about it. But in the grand scheme of things, my grandfather was 97 years old and passed in his sleep with thoughts of his wife as his last words. I’d say if there is a way to go, that sounds pretty good to me.
30. I Once Was Lost…
When I was a hospice nurse, I had a patient who was very close to the end. I had been called to come check on him, and his wife of 40+ years was in the room. Unfortunately, she kept having to run back and forth from his room to their business, which she was trying to run in his absence. Each time she left, she was gone 45 minutes or so, and would then would rush back to his side.
During her last absence, he began to have agonal breathing, which meant that he was very close. I phoned her, but couldn’t get ahold of her. I was praying that she would get back in time. When I realized that it wasn’t going to work out that way, I sat next to his bed, held his hand, and, for some reason, started singing “Amazing Grace”.
I am not religious and I don’t know why I felt the strong urge to do this. He passed very peacefully as I sang. When his wife arrived, I had to catch her at the door to let her know. I mentioned that I sang that song, and she quietly cried and said that the song was his favorite. It had been played at their wedding, at each anniversary, and at the births of all of their kids.
I feel like the divine had definitely intervened that day.
31. Considerate To The End
My father had bladder cancer that had metastasized over a period of years. His last words to me were, “I’m sorry I won’t make it to your 16th birthday”. My birthday was six days away, so I didn’t think much of it. Unfortunately, he perished about five hours later. We held his wake on my birthday, so, whether he knew it or not, he did make it.
It was a cold and somber day for everyone, and I was too numb to speak on his behalf. I still can’t believe that he knew he was going to pass, and yet I was still the first thing on his mind. Here’s looking at you, dad.
32. The Long And “Shorts” Of It
My friend was visiting the hospital during his grandfather’s final days, and at one point he was alone in the room with the man. His grandfather could barely speak, so he motioned for his grandson to lean in. The grandson did so and said, “What is it Grandpa? I’m here for you”. His grandfather mustered every last bit of strength and started to speak…
In a labored voice, his grandfather said, “Shorts...are the key”. After that, he faded away. This experience has forever haunted not only my friend but also those of us who he told the story to. Because a) he misheard his grandfather’s last words, b) his grandfather was not in his right mind, or, the scariest option, c) Shorts really ARE the key.
This happened more than a decade ago, but to this day, whenever the word “shorts” enters a conversation, I will say, “Shorts are the key”! and hope for a moment of clarity. Thus far, it has eluded me. If some task is frustrating me, I will think to myself, “Will shorts help this situation? Are shorts the key”? Unfortunately, most times the answer is no.
33. Deep Wisdom
Intensive care nurse here. If patients are able to speak, a lot of the time they talk about the importance of having no regrets. The one experience that stuck with me happened with a lady who had been on a ventilator for a week while her family decided what they wanted to do. Finally, her brother flew in and gave consent to withdraw life support and start comfort care.
The thing is, her brother didn’t even come in to say goodbye. He just made the decision and left. It was about 2:30 am when her heart slowed down to 20 beats per minute. I went into her room and just held her hand while she took her final breaths. Since then, I have always made it a point to be in the room with someone when they are close. No one should leave this world alone.
Her experience is a memory that will stay with me forever. I walked into the room and saw her lying there in the soft glow of light from the monitor and IV pumps, and I realized that she was utterly alone with no loved ones watching over her. There are many days I come home from work exhausted but deeply thankful for the family I have.
Just remember to tell the people you care about that you do care about them. You never know when the day will come when you can not.
34. A Class Act
One of my first calls as an EMT was for a 101-year-old lady with a pacemaker that had failed and she had declined surgery. Because she had a do not resuscitate order, my job was to just stay with her while we transported her to the hospital. There was nothing I could really do as she had made it clear that she didn’t want any treatment.
She knew she didn’t have much time but she was not bothered at all. She told me, “I am old, but I have had a great life. I have no regrets”. I asked her how she stayed so positive, and what she said really stuck with me: “The trick is, if you can’t laugh, then smile”.
35. One Amazing Woman
My great-grandmother was a heck of a woman, though she’d knock me silly for using such language in reference to her. To this day, I tell stories about her at parties that get people laughing their heads off. She lived to be 102, and she was sharp as a tack and able to walk right to the end. She was a tough old Baptist from Eastern Europe who had had an astounding life…
There was absolutely nothing she couldn’t do. Not only did she work as a missionary in Brazil, but she also operated a lumber mill, raised four kids as a single mom during the Depression, and was a farmer in northern Ontario. She never took any sass from anyone, regardless of whether they could understand each other or not.
When we’d ask how she was, she’d always say, “Every night I pray for God to come in the night and take me so I can leave this old sack of bones behind. Every morning I wake up disappointed”. Eventually, she decided to stop eating because, as she said, “God has forgotten me, so I’m going to go to him”. Two weeks later, my mother was sitting with her.
My great-grandmother had always just called her “meita” or “girl”, as she was my mother’s grandmother-in-law. Just before my great-grandmother passed, she called my mother by her name for the first and only time. She then told my mother that she was going to be “with God” a few times while pointing up to the sky. She went out with a smile on her face and on her terms.
She also forbade us all from crying at her funeral. I hope I’ll be able to live a life half as badass as hers and leave it in a manner that would do her proud.
36. Insider Knowledge
I've worked as a paramedic in the ER for two years and for a little over a year on the ambulance. I’m here to say that people’s last moments are not like in the movies (surprise!). Most people go out in one of the following ways. Trauma patients who are circling the drain suddenly swear a lot and say things like, “Oh shoot, oh fudge, I’m going to go”.
Then there are those who have a terminal illness. They know it’s coming, they are sedated, and they’ve had time to prepare themselves. Another common one is just silence. These are a mixed bag, as some know it is coming and some are very sudden. A couple of other points: Yes, when you pass on, you soil yourself, and, no, most people do not have a transcendent moment.
When people ask about the dark side of this job, I tell them that after a while it doesn’t really affect you. People are essentially machines, and at some point, they stop working. The only exception, to me at least, is children. A person’s eyes always stick with me, though. There is something about the change from “there” to “gone” that is tragically poetic.
37. Every Picture Tells A Story
My grandmother had very advanced Alzheimer’s. She had spent the past year or so in a nursing home and her health was deteriorating. My father is a registered nurse and arranged for her to spend the last few weeks of her life in my grandfather’s home. She hadn’t recognized me or anyone else for close to a year at this point and she could barely speak.
My dad put a picture of my brother and me near her bed and simply said, “These are your grandbabies, mom, and they love you very much”. She grabbed the picture and held it to her chest. About five minutes later she passed.
38. The Spice Of Life
I was about five or six years old when my grandfather was approaching his 11th hour at the hospital. We were all gathered around him and the last thing he did was put his hand on my shoulder and say, “No wonder you never liked my spicy food”. About 10 seconds later he passed. Needless to say, we were all super confused.
About three months later, something crazy happened: I almost lost my life from suffocation after eating some salsa. At the hospital, I was diagnosed with an allergy to capsaicin, which is found in spicy food. Before he said what he did, no one knew I was allergic and I had never shown any signs. To this day, it still creeps me out.
39. Do As I Say, Not As I’ve Done
I was a pre-nursing student and there is one patient that I remember very well. We got to know each other a little bit before the end, so he knew that I was in pre-nursing. During my last moment with him, he told me that he always regretted not being able to go back to school to study his passion, interior design.
This patient went on to tell me that his life choices had been influenced by the fact that his father would repeatedly say that no respectable man would ever go into that profession. He then stared into my eyes and urged me to make sure I’m following my dreams and not just studying something that my parents pressured me into.
That conversation really had an impact on me. I switched from pre-nursing to pre-med, which I had never gone into in the first place because I was always being told by my parents that I was too stupid to do pre-med even though I would much rather be in the diagnostic and operations area of the medical field. I wished I could’ve thanked this man for setting me straight.
40. The Best Way To Spread Christmas Cheer…
While I was going to music school, I also worked part-time as a housekeeper in a long-term care facility. Because I was the youngest on staff and everyone else had families with kids, I offered to take the Christmas morning shift. I didn’t have any small children to disappoint, so I figured, why not? As I was sweeping the halls, I was singing Christmas carols that our university choir had performed a week or so previous.
I wasn’t really thinking too much about what I was doing. I passed the room of an old woman who reached out and took a swipe at me from her wheelchair. She was quite far gone with Alzheimer’s, and her family didn’t visit her too much. Just then a middle-aged woman poked her head out of the room and looked at me weirdly.
I apologized and said, “I’ll stop singing”. She said, “Don’t you dare! It’s the only thing calming her down”. She then ducked back into the room. I found out later that the woman with Alzheimer’s was spitting and cursing at her family as they gathered around for her last days. She only calmed down enough to listen to anyone when she heard me singing.
Now I always sing when I clean because you never know.
41. Keep Smiling
This happened to me when I was working the overnight shift as hospital security. It was about 3:00 am and I was sitting in the ER as I normally did at that time because it is the only place in the hospital with any activity. I was sitting on a stool and reading my book when I got the sense that someone was looking at me.
I glanced up from my book to see a very elderly woman staring at me and smiling from one of the beds. It was a very warm, grandmotherly smile that would melt stone, and I returned it in kind along with a wave. She lifted her hand, returned my wave, and closed her eyes. Within seconds, the machines she was attached to started beeping and booping.
The nurses ran over, checked her chart, and began unhooking her. At that moment, I realized that of the presumably thousands of people this woman met throughout her long life, I was the last person she ever saw. To this day, I still smile every time I think of her and am so happy that I returned her smile and waved. She went out peacefully.
42. His Heart Was In The Right Place
I have worked in the ER for many years, so I have my fair share of stories, but to be honest, there was this one patient who had a real impact on me. This guy was brought from the triage area to one of my ER rooms. His chief complaint was chest pains, and when the nurse doing triage handed me his chart, I could see that he was in the middle of a heart attack.
I grabbed one of the ER doctors and we went into the room to start working on the patient. The doctor asked him how he was feeling as I got the IV ready. I looked up at the guy just as his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he began to go into V-Fib (a dangerous heart rhythm). I began CPR immediately and yelled for a crash cart.
After one round of CPR, the patient became alert and started pushing my hands off his chest saying, “Why are you doing that”? Before we could get him stabilized, he crashed again. We worked on him until he came back and then we sent him off to the cath lab. Almost two weeks later, this man and his wife came back to the ER and gave me and the ER doctor a bag of Life Savers candy.
He gave me a big hug and thanked me for giving him more time with his wife and daughters.
43. An Emotional Roller Coaster
I am an emergency medical technician and a couple of years ago I was doing hospital rotations when an old woman pulled up to the sliding doors that are typically reserved for ambulances. One of the doctors saw her and told me to go see what was up. Truth be told, I was already on my way because something definitely seemed off.
I keyed in the door code and the little old lady pointed to her car and said, “My husband is having a heart attack”! I turned to the nurse behind me and told her to call a code blue. I then turned to the very well-built doctor next to her and said, “Come on, I need some help”. We hoisted the woman’s gargantuan husband out of the passenger seat of the car.
As the doctor started assessing him, the man opened his eyes for a few seconds and said, “You’re not the man I married”. He then lost consciousness and we started chest compressions. We then wheeled him inside where the real fun began. He had no pulse and was not breathing for three minutes, which is legally deceased in my book.
Just before I cycled in to do chest compressions on him, I thought of the thing he said before he stopped breathing and I laughed a little bit. I turned for a moment to try to contain myself and maintain that “professional’s face”. After I giggled to myself, I laid my hands on him and, I kid you not, heard the doctor exclaim from behind me, “We have a rhythm”!
I couldn’t believe it. The dude actually lived.
44. So Many Feels
My father’s parents both had severe Alzheimer’s and went within a few weeks of each other. When granddaddy passed on, it was so difficult to have to keep explaining it to grandmother over and over again. When we would visit, she would say things like, “I can’t find Robert”, or she would get mad and say, “I can’t believe that man left me after all these years”!
When her time came, the hospice nurse called my father to come to say goodbye. He left work, went to her side, and held her hand. He told her how much he loved her, how everyone was going to be fine, and that now she could go be with grandaddy again. She took a long sigh and that was it. I’ve never been so proud of my father. He was such a good son to her, even when he had to let her go.
45. A Fleeting Glance
As an EMT, I don’t see as much trauma as you might expect, but when I do, it’s almost always automotive accidents. One time when we were responding to a single-vehicle accident, our basic life support rig arrived eight minutes before the paramedics. It’s important to note that in my state basic-level EMTs cannot pronounce anyone deceased.
We arrived on the scene to find a mid-90s vehicle with a T-top, which appeared to have been off before the accident, but it was hard to tell. There was a man in his mid-40s who was really banged up, but still in the driver’s seat. There was a lot of blood, but he was semi-conscious. He was screaming for his wife, who was nowhere to be seen.
My partner told me to go look for her while he held pressure as we waited for the fire department to extricate the husband. His wife wasn’t hard to find. She was lying in a pile of tall, autumnal grass that had been stained red. She was very, very gone. At this point, law enforcement arrived, and they stayed with the body while I went to find someone I could help.
My partner looked to me questioningly, and I could only shake my head. The woman’s husband saw this and I watched the moment of realization and then defeat wash over his face. He knows she is gone and he just gives up. I will never forget that moment. I watched a man—who, while unstable, was still in a very survivable state—just give up on living.
His vitals crashed very shortly after and, despite our resuscitation attempts, we were unable to bring him back. To this day, I believe I saw a man lose his life from many complications, but the main one was his broken heart.
46. The Big Question
I’m an oncology nurse and the statement that has always stuck with me the most came from a pancreatic cancer patient who was a 42-year-old mother of four. She'd been on and off our unit with infections and other complications for months. She and her family were very religious, so they were doing a lot of praying and Bible reading.
I worked nights at the time and she was in for anemia of unknown origin. She was very weak and was receiving a lot of blood products. I went in to check on her—and she was staring at the wall in the dark. It took me a minute to determine if she was gone or just staring. I checked her fluids and she quietly asked me, “What if there’s nothing”?
I stood there, dumbfounded, not knowing what to say. Finally, I said, “Either way, it sounds peaceful”. She nodded and closed her eyes. The next day she succumbed to a massive hemorrhage.
47. A Love So Pure…
I worked in an Alzheimer’s unit for a long time and have seen many people pass, but there was one that I’ll never forget. She was in her early 80s and was on comfort care. Her husband was 10 years younger and still worked so that they could have the insurance. Every afternoon he would show up, take off his shoes, climb into bed with her and tell her stories or sing to her.
He told me they had a puppy he had got right before she became sick, and he wished she could see it. One day, right after my shift started, he came in and asked for some water. I left to get him some and while I was gone, his wife passed. I came into the room and he looked at me and asked if I would take care of the puppy for a while.
I figured he would be busy with making arrangements, so I agreed. I left to call hospice to report her passing and when I got back, I couldn't believe my eyes. He was lying there with his head on her chest, holding her hand with a smile on his face. He had no illness, but he slipped away right there with the woman he loved. I sat and cried until hospice showed up.
I went and got the dog, and after 15 happy years, I had to put her to sleep three days ago. I haven’t really quit crying yet. I am a 60-year-old man, still a nurse, who was lucky to have found someone 12 years ago that I love as much as he loved her.
48. Ignorance Really Is Bliss
I am a deputy sheriff in Texas, and one time we were called to a scene where a surgeon had flipped his truck and was ejected along with his dog. The dog was a little beat up but was going to make it. The EMS was on the scene treating the doctor, and I heard him tell them who he was. They told him to hold on because the chopper was on the way.
The surgeon began feeling himself all over. He then said, “Cancel the bird, I’ve got maybe two or three minutes.” He told us his wife had passed and asked us to give his dog to his grandson. He then said that he hated that he knew how long this would take and that he would rather not know. He then said, “Ohhh well…” and that was it. He was gone.