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Unintentional Final Message

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Fiction has many ways for dead characters to send final messages to their loved ones. They can draft out heartfelt goodbyes, leave clues written in blood, and even occasionally come back as ghosts.

However, sometimes a character ends up leaving a final message that they never intended to be final. Simply put, this is when a living character receives a message from a dead character who didn't know they were about to die. This applies both to messages composed immediately before a sudden death, and to messages that were composed significantly ahead of time, but never sent.

Due to the nature of their creation, these messages are usually relatively mundane. They might be love confessions or apologies - or even just random musings. They can also take non-written forms - voicemails, videos, birthday presents that were bought but never delivered, or heirlooms that the deceased intended to pass down in person.

Compared to messages composed by characters who are aware of their incoming demise, unintentional final messages are sentimental because they offer a snapshot into the deceased's everyday life. They show that the deceased was thinking about the recipient - not just while dying, but also while living.

While exceptions exist, receiving an unintentional final message is almost always a tearful but positive experience that motivates the reader to push forward and keep doing their best - occasionally even helping to snap them out of whatever depressive funk they might have been in over the death of their loved one.

See Apocalyptic Log and That Was the Last Entry for other situations where a character might leave a final message without realizing they are about to die. Compare with Killed Mid-Sentence. Contrast with Happier Home Movie for when a character's reliance on this type of message becomes dysfunctional.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The ARIA anime adaptation features a twist— Akari is given a message from a mysterious girl to deliver to a long abandoned address away from Neo Venezia. She later learns that both the recipient and the letter writer died before the letter could be sent; the recipient was a man who died mining for water with the rest of his coworkers, while the writer died waiting for him on Earth. Akari ends up delivering the message to the man's grave though, with a little help.
  • Beastars: The story opens with Legosi the wolf trying to deliver the love confession that his deceased friend wrote but was too shy to send. The recipient is grateful for the letter, and Legosi's efforts end up helping to change her biases against carnivores.
  • Bungo Stray Dogs: Shortly after Atsushi resolves his first major incident as a member of the Armed Detective Agency, he learns that the abusive director of his former orphanage was killed in a car accident. The revelation that the man died while intending to congratulate Atsushi for his success - he was found holding a newspaper clipping about the incident, and had made a reservation for a bouquet at a nearby flower shop - leaves Atsushi with genuinely conflicted feelings about the death of the father figure who he also deeply hated.

    Fan Works 
  • For her girlfriend's 16th birthday, Penny from RWBY: Scars made Ruby a video message, in case Penny was forced to move back home. Penny was killed before her girlfriend's birthday.

    Films — Animated 
  • Ride Your Wave: Hinako receives two of these from her deceased boyfriend, Minato.
    • When she finally manages to unlock his phone, she finds the text message he was in the middle of composing when he died - he'd just completed the complicated surfing trick he was practicing, and was looking forward to seeing her "ride her own wave" (a metaphor he often used to refer to her "finding her own purpose in life"). Seeing this inspires Hinako pull herself out of her depression and decide to start training as a lifeguard.
    • At the end of the movie, Hinako happens to be near a popular romantic landmark that allows customers to prerecord messages and have them read over loudspeaker. While she is standing outside, the loudspeaker begins to play a message for her from Minato, causing her to break down into tears. It turns out that Minato recorded it almost a year ago, planning to take her to that location as a date.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In White Frog, Chaz Young records a video for his younger brother Nick in which he comes out as gay. He gets hit by a car before he can send it, so Nick only sees it when he figures out Chaz's email password.

  • My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!: The night before she was killed in her previous life, Katarina had sent a text message to her best friend Atsuko complaining about the difficulty she was having while playing Fortune Lover. Atsuko wouldn't come across the text for several days (she forgot to bring her phone to school the day of the accident and spent the next several days too depressed to do much of anything). Seeing it helped break her out of her funk and resolve to live her life to the fullest in the hope that they could be reunited in another life.
  • A Pocket Full of Rye: Miss Marple investigates the death by strangulation of Gladys Martin, a maid who once worked for Miss Marple. After she gets back home, Miss Marple receives a letter that Gladys wrote and mailed after Rex Fortescue was killed and mere hours before she herself was murdered. It makes Miss Marple cry, but it also contains a photo of Lance Fortescue with Gladys that will be useful in getting Lance convicted of murder.
  • Are You Seeing Me?: Throughout Justine's childhood, her father regularly wrote letters to her in a journal. He wrote one for her twin brother Perry, too, but switched to keeping a photo album after it became clear that Perry was more of a visual learner. He planned to give both books to the twins when they turned eighteen, but he died of cancer two weeks before their birthday.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Chicago Fire, the squad responds to an accident between a street racer and a postal vehicle. Afterwards, Mouch checks his gear to discover a letter from the postal vehicle got stuck to his boot and sets out to deliver it. After the post office declines to help him, Ritter finds a way to determine the address. Mouch delivers it and discovers it was sent by a soldier to his wife shortly before he was killed in action. (Thus making the post office's ambivalence worse.)
  • CSI: NY: At the end of "Rest in Peace, Marina Garito," Stella receives a letter from the victim in her case, mailed the morning the young woman was killed. After years of searching... and calling Stella about it every week, she had finally figured out what had happened to her twin brother who went missing when they were kids. She was letting it go and planning to move on with her life by relocating to Boston.
  • Played With in the Firefly episode "The Message", where Mal and Zoe receive a message from a former comrade-in-arms (along with this corpse), asking them to bury him on his homeworld. However, Tracey is merely Faking the Dead, so even though his message sounds like his last words, he has certainly never intended it to be such. Unfortunately for him, he ends up shot and killed in the course of the episode, so his fake final message unintentionally becomes the actual final message his family gets from him when Serenity gets to his homeworld.
  • One Foot in the Grave: One episode begins with Margaret phoning her mother to discuss coming to visit, and getting a recorded answerphone message addressed directly to her. Later she learns that her mother had died some time previously — her body wasn't found for several days — which not only makes the message the last thing Margaret ever heard from her mother, it also gives her words an eerie new significance.
    Hello? Margaret? This is your mum speaking. I'm sorry that I'm not here now, but that's because I'm somewhere else. I say, I'm somewhere else! But I expect you'll both be up here soon, won't you, the pair of you? So I'll see you then.
  • In episode 2 of On Becoming a God in Central Florida, Krystal finds the voicemail message her husband sent to her shortly before he died, apologizing for quitting his job but excitedly telling her how great things will be from now on when he'll be able to devote himself to FAM full-time. Though she'd kept herself together up until this point, hearing him speak so happily - and knowing that FAM was the reason why he died - causes her to burst into tears.
  • Stranger Things: In the final episode of Season 3, as she is preparing to leave Hawkins with the the Byers family, El receives the ultimately unused script Hopper wrote in preparation for his talk with her about her romantic relationship with Mike. It turns out to be a surprisingly heartfelt and loving letter about how change is difficult but necessary. Reading the letter helps the recipient come to terms with the writer's death and the massive changes that are about to take place.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, this happens to Marshall's father. After anxiously waiting to listen to a recently discovered voicemail from his father after he had suddenly died from a heart attack, Marshall listens to it, but it turns out it was just a pocket dial. It finally gets him to crack and let out his grief and anger over the loss and the cruel disappointment he felt due to the message's accidental nature. He then hears his dad's voice, who had finally noticed he'd been leaving this really long empty message. He lets out a good-natured laugh at how silly it was and says goodbye after mentioning he enjoyed their recent visit and how much love and pride he has in his son.
  • Nash Bridges had an episode where the title character takes a break from an investigation into a serial rapist to lobby for Michelle Chan staying with the SIU. She's so grateful, she orders a bouquet of flowers thanking him. He receives them at the end of the episode...after she's been murdered by the rapist.
  • In Pushing Daisies, a delayed vacation postcard from Charlotte, who has since died and secretly been revived, to her aunts drives them back into their depression.

  • Mark Wills "Wish You Were Here." A man says goodbye to his girlfriend, and buys a postcard that says "Heaven" on the front. He writes a message that tells her he loves her and the people they know at his destination say hello. Before she gets it, the man dies in a plane crash, giving the postcard's message a dual meaning.


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