Letters of Life/Appendix
Here is my Valedictory. I bring
A basket of dried fruits—autumnal leaves,
And mosses, pressed from ocean's sunless tides.
I strew them votive at your feet, sweet friends,
Who've listened to me long—with grateful thanks
For favoring smiles, that have sustained and cheered
I never wrote for fame—
The payment seemed not to be worth the toil;
But wheresoe'er the kind affections sought
To mix themselves by music with the mind,
That was my inspiration and delight.
And you, for many a lustrum, have not frowned
Upon my lingering strain. Patient you've been,
Even as the charity that never fails;
And pouring o'er my heart the gentlest tides
Of love and commendation. So I take
These tender memories to my pillowed turf,
Blessing you for them when I breathe no more.
Heaven's peace be with you all!
L. H. Sigourney.
May 12th, 1865.
And now remains only a short, sad task, for loving hands to gather up the last links in the chain of a pure and gentle life, and with filial reverence to trace the steps of the journey, as it led to that "better country, even an heavenly."
Since almost the latest event in my mother's history, as recorded by her own hand, was that of our departure to a more distant home, it may not, perhaps, be inappropriate to allude here to the pleasure, over which I would fain linger, of her visit to us in our new abode. Early in July she came, bringing her smiles and her benedictions; and we had the joy of seeing her, during her stay, gaining both in health and cheerfulness. She remained with us through the summer, enjoying the scenery of the lovely lake, and the congenial society by which she found us surrounded, and returned to her own home in September, with renewed strength, and with pleasant recollections of the kind hospitalities of those to whom she came as a stranger. During the succeeding autumn and winter these still lingered with her; she seemed to have been reinvigorated, and to enter with new pleasure and animation into all her accustomed duties. We gain from her journal some of the items of her busy life:
September.—"The weather so fine that I am constrained to work out of doors, trimming a long row of beans, and watering and lifting tomato-vines to the sun—also helping in the kitchen with the flat-irons, any household work being preferred to the pen, though I wrote four letters, and exchanged eighteen calls. Thankful to 'live, move, and have a being,' in this beautiful world."
October.—"Left an offering of sympathy with a note, at the door of a neighbor. No character seems to me so desirable as the distinction mentioned in Scripture, of 'Him that comforteth the mourners.'"
On Sunday, the opening day of the new year, she thus writes:
"Beautiful New Year's morn! bearing the name of God upon thy forehead! Consecrated thus by His sabbatical blessing—I greet thee with joy.
"Giver of all that we have or hope for, wilt Thou peculiarly sanctify this opening year. Make it to me a season of health of body, vigor of mind, and cheerfulness of soul. May my infirmities be removed, my perceptions quickened, my memory strengthened, and my zeal in doing good unwearied. Open for me new ways of aiding improvement, and conferring happiness on my fellow-beings. Bless all that I may be enabled to write, or have already written, to the greatest amount of instruction, satisfaction, and comfort, that it is possible for it to produce. Increase the disposition and the means of liberality, and grant me wisdom in its distribution. Confirm and extend the demonstrations of affection and love, in which my whole nature rejoices; and continue to bless my household establishment with fidelity and affectionate zeal. Enable me to make progress in right feelings, and in the enjoyment of that happiness which rises above a changeful world.
"If this year, now smiling upon me with a snowy face, is to be mine till its close, may it manifestly transcend all its predecessors in usefulness, happiness, and true wisdom; and to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I yield myself in unswerving trust and allegiance, both now and forever."
A few days later, we find the entry: "Made very happy by making ninety little hearts beat lighter, having driven over to the Orphan Asylum, with nice little books, fruit, and cake, for each one. I thank my kind Father in Heaven for this blessing."
February.—"I never remember such perfect days as a few we have lately had. I drive out for an hour near the noon, to inhale the balmy atmosphere, and behold the bright sun."
March 3d.—"Enjoying great delight with a poem in blank verse. May it communicate the same to other hearts."
Thus cheerfully and hopefully passed the weeks, giving no token as yet that the end was near at hand. And now we begin to trace the commencement of her failing health. Just at the close of the winter she took a cold, apparently slight at first, but which became more serious, and marked by extreme physical prostration. Paroxysms of coughing ensued, almost like those in whooping-cough, which were followed by great exhaustion. With her native energy she kept about as usual, riding out and walking in the brighter days, and spending every morning in her study, as had always been her custom. But her flesh wasted away, and her strength failed; and daily the effort became greater. Yet she still required of herself the same early rising, the same careful attention to the details of her housekeeping, and seemed to redouble her thoughtful kindness for the welfare of others.
On Sunday, March 26th, the fourth Sunday in Lent, she attended church for the last time. It was a bright and beautiful day, and she was cheered and comforted by the holy service, but returned home very much fatigued. On the last day of March she writes: "No variation in my employments, except such as extreme weakness admits. Very much to be thankful for."
For about three weeks her case appeared exceedingly critical, and we were very anxious about her. Then her strength of constitution seemed in a measure to rally, her appetite returned, her cough became less violent, and she was again able to ride out and to walk a little when the weather was fine. We trusted that she was to be given back to us; and though we looked forward with apprehension to another winter, we hoped that the mild air of spring might, with God's blessing, bring her a measure of strength and health again. Her voice remained very weak, and her physician considered it absolutely necessary that she should use it as little as possible. She was therefore able to see but very few of her friends. But their constant kindness was most grateful to her. She kept a daily record of the calls of inquiry that were made, and the many gifts of flowers and rare fruits and delicacies that were sent to her.
About the middle of May she was suddenly more completely prostrated, and on the 18th, for the first time, was unable to rise from her bed. There was a failure of the powers of Nature, without any acute disease, and, by gentle and painless steps, she drew near to the Land of Rest. At first she was disposed to be very quiet. "I am tired," she said, "I cannot talk much with you; but I am so comfortable." As she lay one morning in one of the sinking turns which she had every day or two, she opened her eyes with a smile, and said: "I love every body,"—closing them again, to relapse into the partially unconscious state.
"Don't let any one look sad," she would often say—"there should be none but cheerful faces in a sick-room"—and lovingly we tried to follow her wishes. Remembering her own words in her "Daily Counsellor"—
"Smile on the dying friend,"
we strove to repress our tears, that no signs of our "selfish grief" should "chain the glad spirit" of the "ascending saint."
After this period of quiet came a season of restlessness—a longing to go "somewhere"—she could not tell where. Then we used to lift her from her bed, and placing her in a large rocking-chair, draw her gently through into an adjoining chamber, where she would sit by the open window, sometimes for two or three hours, looking out upon the grass and trees. Then, if she felt able, I used to read her letters to her, and tell her of the friends who had called to inquire for her. We used to make the room bright with pictures and flowers, and the change seemed always to refresh her. Once or twice each day she was thus taken from her sick-room, and she was able to sit up every day but the one immediately preceding her death.
How precious are the memories of those last sacred weeks to all those whose privilege it was to share them! I can never be thankful enough that I was able to be with her from the first of March until her death, with the exception of four weeks, when she seemed to be so much better. With the aid of her faithful colored servant, who rendered most affectionate service by night and by day, I had the great comfort of ministering to her throughout her last illness. Towards its close three dear friends shared with me, in turn, these offices of love. Bringing their cheerful smiles into the sick-chamber, and ever welcomed there with smiles, the intercourse seemed like that of those only a "little lower than the angels." For the last ten days of her life we had the aid of a most excellent and tender nurse, whose experience and untiring care made her a comfort to us all. Her kind physician and friend visited her twice each day, and my mother never failed to be cheered by his coming.
But while her bodily presence faded away from us, becoming daily more shadowy and spirit-like, her soul, as it drew nearer the world of love, seemed more than ever to overflow with love for others. The kind thoughtfulness which she had always shown to all who were sick or suffering, was returned fourfold into her own bosom. Almost hourly came from beloved friends messages and tokens of affection; the choicest flowers, the most delicious fruits, every thing that could delight the eye or tempt the palate. She was scarcely able to taste any of the many delicacies bestowed upon her, and it was her chief joy in those days of weakness to arrange for their distribution among such of her friends as were invalids.
"What is there to-day for me to send?" she would ask almost every morning—and then would often cause herself to be bolstered up in bed, to write some little message to go with the gift, precious love tokens, which coming from her failing hand must be ever dear to those who received them. The last letter which she wrote, bearing date of May 25th, was addressed to her old and valued friend, the Rev. Charles Cleveland, of Boston, a few lines to enclose a sum of money for a person in need. The chirography, usually so fair, betrayed the feebleness of the hand that strove to guide the pen; but the heart was still strong in its love of doing good. "Always remember," she said more than once, "always remember there is no pleasure in this life so great as that of doing good."
And surely no one was ever better fitted to give such counsel. There is a little, old-fashioned account-book still in existence, commenced in 1811, when, from her engagement as a teacher, she first had an income of her own. There the plan was marked out, that one-tenth of all that she received should be given in charity—a plan from which she never deviated throughout her life, except to enlarge the measure of her gifts. She had proved what Goldsmith calls "the luxury of doing good;" and desired, with her last words, to commend it to others.
On Sunday, May 28th, the Sunday after Ascension, she received for the last time, greatly to her comfort, the Holy Communion from the hands of her rector, the Rev. Dr. George Clark. At the close of the day we knelt around her bed, knowing that on earth we should drink of that cup together no more. As we joined in the hymn "Trisagion," it seemed almost as if we could hear the voice of the heavenly host, with whom the beloved one was so soon to worship. Blessed communion of saints! which becomes more and more dear as those whom we love are taken from our sight, bringing strength to stricken hearts in the thought of unending reunion in the Father's house above.
Reference has been made in the preceding pages to the pleasure which my mother found, many years since, in a short time spent in the study of Hebrew. She alluded to it during the last week of her life. She had been speaking of her translation of the book of Jonah, and said: "I liked my own translation, it seemed so vivid. I have been thinking of one verse in particular—'In the fainting away of my life, I will think upon Jehovah, and He shall send forth strength for me from His Holy Temple.'"
As she grew weaker she slept much of the time, but when aroused her mind was clear; and whenever she spoke, it was with her own peculiar smile, which all who knew her will recall. On the last Sunday of her life, June 4th, as she sat by the window, we read at her request the Psalter for the day, and the little poem in her "Daily Counsellor," and offered the beautiful prayer for the Church militant, all of which she was able to enjoy.
On Tuesday she wrote her last message of love. It was addressed to a friend who had been dangerously ill, but was then convalescent, and between whom and herself a peculiarly tender sympathy had sprung up during their hours of illness. She said: "I have had a text in my mind all day, and I wish you would give me a card that I may write it down." She took the card and the pencil, and wrote in her own characteristic hand, "An Apostle hath said, 'Death worketh in us, but life in you'"—affixing her own initials and the date, and desiring that it might be sent with some beautiful roses which she had been enjoying.
And now it seemed as if her work on earth was done, and with calmness and steadfast trust she awaited the will of the Lord. Patient and loving, she thought more of the comfort of those who watched over her than of her own. There was still no pain, no distress, except at times a shortness of breath and a weariness that nothing could relieve. "I am so tired, so tired," she would say; the soul, weary of its burden of the flesh, longed for the "rest that remaineth for the people of God."
It was at the midnight before the morning of Saturday, June 10th, that we knew by a change in her breathing that the angels were waiting for her. She still aroused once or twice, to take the few drops of wine that formed her only nourishment, adding her unfailing "Thank you." Hand in hand we went down with her into the valley of death's shadow. The birds sang gloriously as the day dawned, as if they knew it was for her their parting strain. The sun of the beautiful summer morning streamed in at the windows; the house was filled with the odor of the vine-blossoms, as fifteen years before it had been, when her "Faded Hope" departed; the holy words of prayer and the comforting promises of God's blessed Word arose from beloved lips; twice the pulse ceased, and the breath stopped, and we thought that she had entered into rest. But God had ordained that there must yet be a struggle for the weary body to pass through—a final conflict ere the pure spirit could be set free. Sudden and sharp it was; the suffering of the whole sickness seemed to have been compressed into its last hour. But then it ceased forever—no more forever the weary moaning, "so tired, so tired"—no more forever of pain or distress, but perfect unending rest and peace, "for the former things have passed away."
The struggle for breath ended, and she lay for about ten minutes in apparent unconsciousness. Then her eye lighted up with unearthly brightness, as if a glimpse had been given her into the world beyond. Something unseen by our mortal eyes was doubtless revealed to her. It was but for an instant, and then, just at ten o'clock, without a struggle, the glad spirit was released. "Thanks be unto God, who giveth the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
For a time we could not mourn. We had gone with her so near the gates of Paradise that we seemed to have entered into her joy. We could not immediately realize that we were left behind. Then came the sense of bereavement settling slowly down with its dull, heavy weight, to be lifted no more, until in God's good time those parted on earth shall meet in the unchanging Home above.
"Her ministry was o'er;
To cheer earth's pilgrim to the sky,
To dry the tear-drop from his eye
Was hers—then to immortal joy
Resign her brief employ,
Break her sweet harp and die."
And yet, since she must go from us, how gently and mercifully was the summons sent! Taken only a little while from her accustomed employments, with her mind undimmed by the touch of Time, clear and active to the last, the later years of her life growing brighter to her as the sunbeams drew toward the west, loving all, and beloved by all, what was there more to desire? What more could have been added, save that which she has now received, eternal blessedness in the Paradise of God?
Every possible tribute of respect and affection was paid to her memory. The bells of the city were tolled for an hour at sunset on the day of her death. Multitudes thronged the house, that they might look once more upon the beloved face.
On Tuesday, June 13th, she was borne for the last time to the church where she had worshipped so long. The officers of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, the Retreat for the Insane, the Orphan Asylum, and the State Reform School, were there, to testify their respect for the memory of one who had been their benefactress and friend. A short funeral discourse was pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Clark; the choir chanted the anthem, "I heard a voice from Heaven," and sang the hymn, "Who are these in bright array?" The sublime words of the burial service were said, and then the long procession wound slowly to the cemetery. With holy words of prayer the precious form was laid gently to its rest, "looking for the general resurrection at the last day, and the life of the world to come."
"Oh, saintly and beloved!
The pleasant home is darkened, where thy smile
Of self-forgetfulness and sweet regard
For others' happiness, and perfect peace
Returns no more.
"Yet hast thou left behind
The living beauty of that Christian faith
Which was thy strength, and now is thy reward.
So may we keep thy pattern in our hearts,
So walk like thee, in our Redeemer's ways,
As not to miss thy mansion in the skies
When our brief task is done!"
- This I suppose to be my mother's last completed poem, as it bears date of less than four weeks before her death. It was intended to form a part of a longer poem, entitled "The Septuagenarian," which she was preparing for publication in the coming autumn. The plan was all marked out, but it was not sufficiently far advanced for any use to be made of it. The little poem, as it stands, forms a peculiarly appropriate close to her "Letters of Life."
M. H. R.