The final words

Published 9:20 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2019

By Nathan Rice

We had been working on several things for many weeks. My approach was multi-fold, and each time we met, I strived to help him improve in each of the areas on which we were focused.

We started this night like many of the others as I asked him about life at home and at school. The discussion continued as I addressed some areas in which he fell short of his earlier promises to me. I reminded him again of the plan I had laid out before him. Having known him for most of his life, I told him about some of his positive traits and reminded him, as I had many times before, that I knew he could reach these goals.

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The night continued as we looked at his homework and prepared for an upcoming quiz. He had trouble naming all of the original 13 American colonies, so I reminded him of some of tricks I tried to teach him to help him remember each of the 13. “Don’t forget M&Ms,” I said. “We both love them, so don’t forget Maryland and Massachusetts. M&Ms. I bet the colonists would have loved them, too.”

We finished everything on our agenda for that evening, and I was trying to determine the best way to end our conversation as I stood up to leave. I considered giving another reminder of the plan that had been put in place. Perhaps a stern warning about doing better in the areas in which he fell short would be best. I decided on neither of those and left him with the words I thought he needed to hear the most. “I love you,” I said.

I didn’t give a lot of thought to those words that evening or the next day at work. Those simple, heartfelt words were only three syllables and would be mixed in with many more conversations over the years. They didn’t seem that significant.

That all changed when my phone rang, and I learned that “I love you” would be the last words I would ever speak to him. There would be no more conversations in which to encapsulate those words. It was the final sentence in our time together. It would be the last thing he’d ever hear me say.

I’m incredibly glad those three words were the last thing I said to him. I’m so grateful I bypassed the first two options that came into my mind and ended our talk by letting him know that he was loved.

I tell this story to give a simple reminder. Tell them you love them. Don’t be afraid to end your conversations with those three simple words.

Perhaps we’d all do better at letting people know how we truly feel if we considered that the final thing we say to them could be the last words they would ever hear us speak. Maybe we’d be sure to end our conversations on a good note, regardless of the nature of the conversation, if we took time to think about the fact that it might be the last time we’d ever see that person.

Our time together can be cut short, and there is often no notice given. Many times, we have no idea that the words we say to someone will be the last thing they’ll ever hear us say. Don’t waste the opportunities you have, and be sure to end each conversation on a positive note.


Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at