Last Words

When faced with the imminent prospect of your death, what things do you want to say to people? What have you learned? What have you seen? This site contains answers to some of these questions given by one man, Sam Goodwin—a father, husband, and all around cool guy who died in 1986 of lung cancer, and who (though not a writer) took the time, at the end of his life, to write down a few things he thought the rest of us might want to hear.

If you're expecting something morbid, by the way, look elsewhere. Although Sam talks about death, and says some really profound things, death isn't what his writings are truly about. His Yankee Farmer, for example, reads like a sequel to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy. As for the rest of his writings, you'll just need to see for yourself.


How Sam Died

I met Sam when I was a young woman working as a paralegal in the law offices of Sklarz & Early in New Haven, Connecticut (now Early, Ludwick, Sweeney, and Strauss), where I did a lot of work with people who had contracted various illnesses through exposure, in their workplaces, to asbestos.

Sam Goodwin

"Love Makes Things Grow"
Samuel Willis Goodwin

Asbestos is a wonderful thing. It’s a mineral. But it’s flexible and durable. It’s a great insulator. And it can be formed into pastes, coatings, tiles, and fabrics that tolerate a wide range of conditions and temperatures.

Unfortunately, asbestos is also a terrible thing. It’s made of microscopic rock-needles that, if a person breathes them, can work their way into lung tissue, damaging and scarring everything in their path. Often they find their way to the outside of the lung where they can accumulate, irritate, and scar, causing everything from difficulty breathing to a rare form of lung cancer called pleural mesothelioma.

Although people have known since at least Roman times that asbestos was bad for them, asbestos is so cheap and versatile that, until the 1970s (when it was outlawed for most purposes), US industries used it in everything from boilers to brakes—basically anything requiring a tough, flexible, heat-tolerant material.

As a side-effect of asbestos' widespread use, people, especially in certain professions, started turning up with a wide range of asbestos-related illnesses. Particularly hard hit were boilermakers, insulators, construction workers, and anyone working in railroad yards around trains.

Sam Goodwin, a railroad worker, was one such person. I met Sam after he had been diagnosed with mesothelioma—which at that time was a fatal diagnosis. Though he was in his sixties and I was in my twenties, we developed a friendship. When I found out that his family members didn’t like to drive, I would visit Sam once a week to take him out to relive some of his favorite memories one last time, from watching the airplanes take off and land at a nearby air field to eating his favorite pie from a local café.

Sam died in 1986 of complications arising from his mesothelioma.

Sam's Legacy

Sam had not been much of a writer during his life, but when his hospice worker him encouraged him to write down his memories and important thoughts, Sam took on the task eagerly and seriously. Sam shared what he wrote with me, and I promised to find a way to share it, in turn, with others. These writings are an important legacy that he wanted to pass on. Now, 22 years later, I am fulfilling my promise.

I know there are many other people who, as they faced their death, have written about their life, so although I've created this site for Sam, it's not only about him. It's about life, death, and about how we can honor the memory of those who have passed on.

Links to Sam's Writings

Below are links to Sam's writings—both webified versions and also scans of the original typescripts and manuscripts that Sam's family gave me after he died, at his request. For those who care about the details, the webified versions were scanned by me, then turned into plain text by Microsoft Office Document Imaging (a standard part of Microsoft Office that will do optical character recognition on TIFFs passably well). My husband and I then added (X)HTML markup, updated the spelling and punctuation a bit, corrected errors introduced by the OCR process, and put the resulting documents here.

As noted above, a lot of what Sam says about farm life in Yankee Farmer reads like a sequel to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy. The descriptions he gives of, e.g., making a bobsled pair are amazing. Sam knew things like what a whiffletree and a cradle-knoll were, and what it meant to twitch logs. And he knew a thing or two about the meaning of life:

Here's to you, Sam!

Amy Goerwitz