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Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 11, 2024 ·  4 min read

An Oncologist Reveals That People Often Say These 4 Things At The End of Their Lives

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee has observed some overlap among people at the end of their lives. Despite the unique journeys each person goes through in life, many share similar sentiments in their final moments. Mukherjee’s insights offer profound lessons for living a fulfilling life. 

The Four Common Phrases

The End
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Siddhartha Mukherjee has identified four recurring themes expressed by individuals nearing death1. These phrases are:

  1. “I want to tell you that I love you.”
  2. “I want to tell you that I forgive you.”
  3. “Would you tell me that you love me?”
  4. “Would you give me your forgiveness?”

These expressions highlight a deep need for love and reconciliation. Mukherjee notes that people often delay showing appreciation or addressing interpersonal conflicts until it is too late.1

Read More: Death Doesn’t Exist And May Just Be An Illusion, According To Quantum Physics

The Importance of Love and Forgiveness

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The delay in expressing love and forgiveness can lead to regret and emotional distress—neurobehavioral scientist J. Kim Penberthy emphasizes that unresolved emotions can negatively impact mental health and overall well-being. Mukherjee urges young people to take these words seriously and to not dismiss love and forgiveness as outdated clichés.

Love and forgiveness, death and transition. Waiting [to express yourself] merely delays the inevitable,” Mukherjee said. “You’re living in a world where love and forgiveness have become meaningless, outdated platitudes. … They’re words people have learned to laugh at.”

Practical Steps to Reconciliation

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Coming to terms with having wronged or hurt someone can be challenging. Richard Cowden, a social-personality psychologist at Harvard, outlines four steps for addressing these feelings:

  1. Take responsibility for your actions.
  2. Allow yourself to experience negative feelings, like remorse and guilt.
  3. Give a sincere apology and try to make amends.
  4. Learn from the experience and move on.

“It’s uncomfortable to admit you’ve done something wrong, and it’s natural to protect one’s self-esteem by dismissing what happened or making excuses for your behavior,” Cowden told Harvard Medical School in 2022. “[But] it can free you from your past mistakes and help you live more fully in the here and now. You might be surprised how much better you feel if you can work through the process of forgiving yourself.”

The Power of Last Words

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The significance of our final words is profound. Ben Zander shared a poignant story in his 2008 TED talk about a Holocaust survivor who vowed never to say anything she couldn’t stand as her last words2. This vow emerged from a tragic incident in Auschwitz, where the last words she said to her brother were harsh, and she never saw him again.

I walked out of Auschwitz into life, and the vow was, I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.”

Read More: End-of-life Doctor Discusses What People Say in The Final Days Before Death

Practices for Meaningful Communication

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Ensuring that our words can stand as our last requires mindfulness and intention. Here are five practices to help achieve this:

  1. Be present: Show up with kindness and compassion, fully engaging with those around you.
  2. Listen with all the senses: Pay attention to physical sensations and emotional reactions during conversations.
  3. Choose words carefully: Be impeccable with your words, speaking truth with love and avoiding brutal honesty.
  4. Check for completeness: Ensure no important topics are left unaddressed, ending conversations positively.
  5. Reflect often: Regularly consider whether your recent conversations could stand as your last words to someone.

These practices help maintain meaningful and respectful communication, ensuring that our interactions are valuable and considerate.

Living with Intention

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Mukherjee’s observations and the shared stories underscore the importance of living with intention. By expressing love and forgiveness freely and frequently, we can avoid the regrets that often surface at the end of life. Mukherjee challenges us to use these powerful words—“I love you” and “I forgive you”—with genuine meaning.

I dare you to use these words,” Mukherjee said. “But not as empty remarks. Imbue them with real meaning. Do it your way, whatever your way is”.


Person standing on rails with arms wide on a mountian
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The insights from Siddhartha Mukherjee and the experiences shared by others highlight a universal truth: our final moments are often filled with a desire for love and reconciliation. By integrating these lessons into our daily lives, we can lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives, free from the burdens of unresolved emotions. Practicing mindful communication and intentional living can ensure that we never leave important words unsaid and that our final words can stand as a testament to our true selves.

Read More: Common Heartburn Drugs Linked to Early Death, Study Claims.


  1. People’s last words are often these 4 phrases: What they teach us about living happy, meaningful lives, from an oncologist.” CNBC. Ashton Jackson. May 31, 2024.
  2. The Power Of Last Words.” Forbes. Paul Ward. November 7, 2019.