The Last Voice You Hear

AnOldSinner recently ran across a story about the last moments of life.  It was not, however, a true story.  It was the story of a fictional death of a fictional character, Calvin from the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.” The story was well written and made this writer’s chin quiver, almost bringing a tear to my eye. It was the kind of scene one might see played out in a tissue worthy tearjerker at the theater.

It is hard to imagine any Calvin and Hobbes fan who would not be moved by the story. In fact, it is so well written it would be hard to imagine anyone with a hint of empathy or any lingering connection to one’s childhood who would not be moved by the story. It ends in what the writer surely considered an uplifting manner. Yet, it may be one of the saddest pieces of fiction I’ve read in a while.

No one truly knows what to expect when he or she dies. In spite of all the near death experience accounts, stories about visits to heaven, little understood science studies about brain activity after death, psychics helping people remember past lives, and the well-intentioned words of fellow believers, no one knows for certain what to expect when they draw their last breath. Even if one believes you are alive one minute and with Jesus the next instant, no one knows what that will look like, feel like, smell like, or if those words will even have meaning at that point.

This writer has always believed the idea of instantaneous translation from earth to God’s side has been a fantasy or misunderstanding. For one thing, eternal beings will probably not sense or understand time the way humans understand it. At least God does not experience time the same way as humans. Otherwise, 2 Peter 3:8, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” (ESV) would not be necessary.

One thing that does seem clear is earthly existence ceases very shortly after the heart stops. Vampires not withstanding, shortly after the last breath, the last beat of the heart, the last involuntary reaction of an eyelid, or other sign of life ceases, life as we know it ends for that body and mind. With the last few sentences as a backdrop, let us return to Calvin and Hobbes.

The dying Calvin asks to see his old friend Hobbes who has been hidden away in the attic for many years. Calvin’s loving wife retrieves the stuffed toy and brings it to Calvin, even giving Calvin time alone so Calvin and Hobbes can talk. The final scene comes after the old friends’ last conversation.

Calvin’s children and grandchildren come to see him. He is surrounded by his loving family including a rambunctious grandchild, Francis. Francis is a chip off the old block and his mother has to control him as he really does not understand the gravity of the moment. To the reader, it is clear Calvin sees himself in that child.

As the story closes, Calvin calls Francis to his side. He gives Francis his old friend Hobbes, with a story of how the child can bring Hobbes to life if he wants. Shortly, Calvin goes to sleep for the last time. The last thing he hears is Hobbes whispering that he will take care of Francis. Calvin moves on to the “next great adventure” with a smile on his face.

Even summarizing the ending made this writer a little misty. Perhaps it is due to the growing awareness of my mortality, the similarity between Francis and one of my grandchildren, or it hits a little to close to home in some ways. Whatever the cause, it is a moving story, and a sad one.

No one knows for certain if the creator of Calvin and Hobbes was a Christian, an atheist or something else. What is known is that he addressed serious issues, including faith, through his creation. Calvin and Hobbes had conversations over the years that were quite deep behind the façade of comic art. The little story related to and linked to above cannot do justice to the cartoonist’s creations, but it made this writer think, just as Calvin’s creator hoped to make his readers think.

The chronicler of Calvin’s fictional ending tried to follow in the footsteps of Calvin’s creator. The author tried to leave the reader with a question.  The author wrote that Calvin remembered being told that death was simply the next great adventure. He lets Calvin fade out with his imaginary friend’s words in his mind and a smile on his face. Calvin is off to another adventure. It is a great ending for a cartoon character, but what about real people?

I was at my mother’s side when she died. I do not know what she could hear or understand in the final moments of her life. She was not responsive, but she was breathing and her heart was beating. She appeared to be fighting not to leave. In my mind, it was her fighting spirit that simply refused to let go of this life.  Likely, it was simply the body’s autonomic system continuing to work after mom was gone. Whatever it was.  I was trying to soothe her, and let her know she could finally rest. Eventually, she, her body or both gave up.

I love being right. It is one of my most serious failings.  I hope I am wrong about when a believer goes to heaven. If I am wrong, it is possible mine were not the last words my mother heard.  I hope that is the case.

I do not hope that because what I was saying was wrong. She had fought long and hard. She did not need to fight any longer. Still, I hope that is not the last thing she heard.  Rather, I hope she was hearing something else. If Calvin had been a real person instead of a fictional character, I would hope the same for him.

I pray that when those I love take that last breath, the last words they hear are the same words I pray my mother heard. The words I pray you and I hear. “Welcome home my child.”

© S. E. Jackson – 2014

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