Home » Mourning Literature & Custom » DYING RECOLLECTIONS.


I am lucky enough to have in my personal library a book entitled ‘The Mourner’s Friend or Sighs of Sympathy For Those Who Sorrow’. It is a collection of prose and verse compiled to give comfort to the grieving. Edited by J.B. Syme, published in 1852 by S.A. Howland in Worcester, Mass, USA; its contents are by American and European authors and some surprising famous names. My copy of the book has some water damage, ageing paper, and precarious binding, so before it deteriorates my project to preserve the words of the authors will find its way here on the MOLAM blog. 


“GIVE me”, said Herder to his son, in the fevered exhaustion of sickness, “give me a noble thought, to refresh me withal !” But what is that, for he most part, we are found giving to our sick fellow-mortals, when the shining dew on their life has become gray ? Instead of bright pictures from the sky, to shine through the darkness of death, we accumulate a host of unfamiliar and unkindly images around the bed of sickness. When a man is healthy, and strong, and able to endure much sorrow, we lay light burdens on his back ; but when he is weak, and sickly, and the nerve of his being is unstrung, we seem to expect that at such a moment he shall be best able to hear all our sorrows and all our lamentations ; we behave as if it were the duty of the dying man to elevate us, not our duty rather to support him, In the confined sick-room there stands no soul that has strength sufficient to wake a passing smile upon that nerveless, colorless countenance ; but only confessors, and lawyers, and physicians, are there, giving instructions about everything ; and friends and relations, who can do nothing but lament. There is no individual in this room, that stands elevated above his own private cause of grief upon a position from which he irrigates the thirsty soul of the sick man with the fresh spring-waters of old reminiscences, and unites these with the flowings of ecstatic anticipations that sometimes open up to the dying the vista of a future life. But the bed of the sick man is made literally a coffin without a lid ; or life is made to assume to the departing a false importance, by weeping lies of recovery, or loud voices of lamenting ; and the bier is made to show like a bloody scaffold ; and into the ears which remain alive after the eyes are dead, the sharp discords only of life are sent, – whereas, life ought rather to breathe itself away, amid the falling echo of ever deeper and ever sweeter tones. And yet there is this one good thing about men, – that they rejoice more in one small good office done to the dying, than in twenty kindnesses shown to the living ; perhaps partly for this reason, because only in the latter case have they opportunity to eke out the measure of their defective benevolence ; and yet we mortals ought daily to bear in mind, how easily every joy that is given or received may prove to be the last.
In this fashion, our exit out of life would, for the most part, prove even a more painful thing than our entry to it, did not good Mother Nature here as in other things smooth the way before us, by bearing her sleeping children in her arms, softly cradled from the one world into the other. For in the hours that immediately precede death, she is wont to cover the dying with a mail of indifference towards everything they leave behind them upon earth ; and when the critical moment approaches, (as the information of those who have been wakened from the semblance of death, and gestures and tones of many dying persons, sufficiently testify,) she causes a flood of joyous waves to swim round the brain of the mortal, comparable to nothing on earth but those feelings of deep delight in which persons who have been magnetically dead bathe themselves, while convalescent. But of these ecstasies of the dying we have only a fragmentary and imperfect knowledge ; they may be far higher than we have any conception of. There is an important universal history yet to be written, – the history of the dying ; but upon this earth the rolls of that history will not be unfolded.

Photo courtesy The Burns Archive.

Photo courtesy The Burns Archive.

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