By Clare Kennedy, MMC Intern
While reading letters written by the family and friends of Thomas Henry, I have frequently come across discussions of death. This preoccupation with death is not surprising, given the fact that many of Thomas’ family and friends were devoted Christians. Therefore, they would have been concerned with living good lives and being prepared for death so that they could go to heaven. Also, mortality rates were higher in Thomas’ day, and people usually died in their homes, not a hospital.
I have found the most interesting discussions of death in the letters from Thomas’ sons. For instance, one son George uses metaphors to talk about death. The following is an excerpt of a letter from George to his mother Lurenda. It was written shortly after Thomas died. George writes:
We are all upon the great train…[moving] rapidly on to the great Depot of death stepping off one by one. We follow our loved ones so far and no further, when we give one long anxious lingering look but we see them no more, there is no return train or passenger to report.
George’s comments reveal an anxiety about death. He sees life as a journey moving too quickly towards an inevitable end. He is also unnerved by the fact that no one really knows what life after death is like.
Thomas’ son Ebenezer writes about death very differently. For him, death sometimes seems to be the solution to his problems. He believes that life after death will lead to better relationships with his family. For instance, he writes to his father, “Believe me to be your Prodigal Son till we meet on the other shore then all misunderstandings will be…[righted] and I shall be properly understood.” In the same letter, he mentions that death will allow him to be reunited with his mother and her love. This last statement sums up Ebenezer’s feelings on the subject: “I would love to exchange this cold hearted world for the flowers that are waiting for us to gather in those bright fields that we have never trod.
There is one more mention of death in the letters that I find particularly interesting. This occurs in a letter from Thomas’ son Albert to Lurenda. What strikes me is Albert’s very frank discussion with his mother about her impending death. While on a trip to London, he writes, “If I don’t find you in your accustomed place when I return, I shall be very sorry that I came away.” He then goes on to say, “I certainly hope to be with you when you close your eyes for the last time. This as you well know cannot be far away.” I am sure that Albert had good intentions when he wrote this last sentence, but I find it slightly disturbing that he is reminding his mother that she is going to die soon.
Thomas’ sons discuss death very differently. Probably most of us do not share Ebenezer’s desire to move on from this life. More likely, the vast majority of us are like George, still struggling with the mystery of our fate.