Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
It is strange what a change is wrought in one hour by death. The moment our friend is gone from us forever — what sacredness invests him! Everything he ever said or did seems to return to us clothed in new significance. A thousand yearnings rise, of things we would gladly say to him — of questions unanswered, and now unanswerable. All that he wore or touched, or looked upon familiarly, becomes as sacred as relics. Yesterday these were homely articles, to be tossed to and fro, handled lightly, given away thoughtlessly — today we touch them softly, our tears drop on them; death has laid his hand on them, and they have become holy in our eyes.
Those are sad hours when one has passed from our doors, never to return, and we go back to set the place in order. There the room, so familiar, the homely belongings of their daily life, each one seems to say to us in its turn, "Neither shall their place know them any more." Clear the shelf now of vials and cups, and prescriptions; open the windows; step no more carefully — there is no one now to be cared for — no one to be nursed — no one to be helped.
Ah! why does this bring a secret pang with it, when we know that they are, where none shall any more say, "I am sick!" Could only one flutter of their immortal garments be visible in such moments; could their face, glorious with the light of Heaven, once smile on the deserted room — it might be better.
One needs to lose friends — to understand one's self truly. The death of a friend, teaches things within that we never knew before. We may have expected it, prepared for it, it may have been hourly expected for weeks; yet when it comes, it falls on us suddenly, and reveals in us emotions we could not dream. The opening of those heavenly gate for them startles and flutters our souls with strange mysterious thrills, unfelt before. The glimpse of glories, the sweep of voices — all startle and dazzle us, and the soul for many a day aches and longs with untold longings.
We divide the possessions of our lost ones among ourselves. Each well-known thing comes to us with an almost supernatural power. The book we once read with them, the old Bible, the familiar hymn; then perhaps little pet articles, made dear to them by some peculiar taste, the picture, the vase! — how costly are they now in our eyes.
We value them not for their beauty or worth, but for the frequency with which we have seen them touched or used by them; and our eye runs over the collection, and perhaps lights most lovingly on the homeliest thing which may have been oftenest touched or worn by them.
It is a touching ceremony to divide the memorials of the lost among a circle of friends. Each one comes inscribed, "No more!" and yet each one, too, is a pledge of reunion. But there are invisible relics of our lost ones more precious than the book, the pictures, or the vase. Let us treasure them in our hearts. Let us bind to our hearts the patience which they will never need again; the fortitude in suffering which belonged only to this suffering state. Let us take from their dying hand, that submission under affliction which they shall need no more in a world where affliction is unknown. Let us collect in our thoughts all those cheerful and hopeful sayings which they spoke out from time to time as they walked with us, and string them as a rosary to be daily counted over. Let us test our own daily life — by what must be their now perfected state; and as they once walked with us on earth — let us walk with them in Heaven.
We may learn at the grave of our lost ones — how to live with the living. It is a fearful thing to live so carelessly as we often do with those dearest to us, who may at any moment, be gone forever. The life we are living, the words we are now saying — will all be lived over in memory, over some future grave.
One remarks that the death of a child often makes parents tender and indulgent! Ah, it is a lesson learned from bitter sorrow! If we would know how to measure our relationship to living friends — let us see how we feel towards the dead. If we have been neglectful, if we have spoken hasty and unkind words, on which death has put his inevitable seal, what an anguish is that!
But our living friends may, before we know — pass from us. We may be talking today — with those whose names tomorrow are to be written among the dead. The familiar household object of today — may become sacred relics tomorrow. Let us walk softly; let us forbear and love; none ever repented of too much love to a departed friend; none ever regretted too much tenderness and indulgence — but many a tear has been shed for too much harshness and severity. Let our friends in Heaven then — teach us how to treat our friends on earth. Thus by no vain fruitless sorrow, but by a deeper self-knowledge — a tenderer and more sacred estimate of life — may our heavenly friends prove to us ministering spirits.
The triumphant apostle says to the Christian, "All things are yours — Life and Death." Let us not lose either. Let us make 'Death' our own; in a richer, deeper, and more solemn earnestness of life. So those souls which have gone from our ark, and seemed lost over the gloomy ocean of the unknown — shall return to us, bearing the olive-leaves of Paradise!