Having the Last Word

Shirley MacLaine plays the lead in a movie out this spring, “The Last Word.” This movie made me reflect on how I want to be remembered. It’s the story of retired advertising executive Harriet Lauler, who spent her life being critical of everyone she met. A life-long control freak and perfectionist, she strives to be in control of what will go into her obituary.

After Anne, the young newspaper journalist played by Amanda Seyfried, first meets Harriet, she is so irritated by the older woman’s behavior that she blurts out to her boss, “she puts the bitch in obituary!”

Tasked with interviewing people who knew Harriet, Anne fails to find a single person who has anything good to say about her. Still determined to have an obituary that describes a life well lived, Harriet starts a journey to create a better legacy. Along the way, she turns her passion for music into a gig as a DJ at a radio station, travels to see her estranged daughter, and mentors a young girl.

Harriet loosened her critical nature up and connected with new friends in ways that made their lives better. As Anne struggled to pursue her dreams, Harriet warned her about “ambition neutered by self-doubt.” She went on to tell her to not be afraid of mistakes. “You don’t make mistakes. Mistakes make you. They make you smarter. They make you stronger. They make you more self-reliant.” On air at the radio station, Harriet complained to her audience about people saying “have a nice day.” Instead, she prescribed: “Don’t have a nice day. Have a day that matters.”

In a short period of time, Harriet was able to be remembered not only for her critical nature, but for her courageous life choices as well. People learned that she was as a woman who took dared to take risks.

I’ve been a fan of Shirley MacLaine since reading her 1983 book, Out on a Limb. That surprising read shook up my cosmic perspective and set me on a spiritual path that has enriched my life in many ways.

Academy Award-winning actor, dancer, and author of at least nine books, this wasn’t MacLaine’s finest work, but it serves to remind us that it’s never too late to make our lives more meaningful. To make a difference. MacLaine once told a reporter, “You are the architect of your personal experience.” In this film, she lived that maxim and had the last word.

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