‘Rest & be comfortable’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The death of the diarist’s sister Lizzie Shober[1] is the subject of three diary entries – among the longest passages in the Regina Shober Gray[2] diary, and closing out the year 1865. In these entries Mrs. Gray approaches her subject directly and obliquely, focusing on different moments in Lizzie’s last days as she tries to make sense of the Shober family’s loss.

In her characterization of her younger sister, Mrs. Gray sketches out a Victorian ideal of a maiden lady: “She was pre-eminently the sun shine of her home – the darling sister to each one of us; enjoying all bright, glad things in life, with keenest zest, interested in the smallest details if they were able to pleasure others, ready with quickest sympathies in joys as in sorrows & anxieties – always hopeful if hope were possible, and efficient in all things; at all times considerate & thoughtful for others, self-forgetting, loving, and most lovable.”

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Saturday, 25 November 1865: Sorrowful news from Philad[elphia]. Our darling sister has relapsed and is more alarmingly sick and prostrated than ever. We still try to hope God will spare us this dreadful loss, but it is hoping in the face of despair to me. I have felt so disheartened about her all along. Perhaps more so than those who have been about her, ministering to her comfort and knowing themselves of use to her – while I have just had to sit here at home and fear and weep over the worst.

Oh what a blank it will leave in life, if we are to lose forever here her warm sympathies, her clinging affections, her unwearying services to those she loved. I must hope still, but for days I have been so depressed about them that this discouraging letter seems the fulfilment of my own forebodings. Poor Mary [Shober][3] – she has struggled so hard to keep up a good heart amid all the wearing anxieties and fatigues of this long nursing – and oh what an irreparable loss she will feel if – if the dear one should be taken!

*

Monday, 11 December 1865: Frank [Gray][4] & I got home yest’y morning at about 9½ o’c. after our fortnight’s sorrowful stay in Philad. My precious sister died on Friday, December 1st 1865 – and took away, oh, so much of life’s sunshine with her! and even now I cannot make it real that she is gone – it seems so impossible to live without her, to take up and bear the daily burden of life, in a world where she is not – to miss forever more on earth, her tender affection, her warm sympathies, her sunny presence, her active energy, her cheerful, vigorous interest in all that concerned her loved ones & her utter almost unconscious self-abnegation for them.

[To] miss forever more on earth, her tender affection, her warm sympathies, her sunny presence…

It seems like a night-mare from which we must soon wake up with a start of relief to say “It is only a dream thank God!” But she sleeps the last dreamless sleep, and our loss is no dream alas! but an unspeakable bereavement, darkening all our inward faith, with its retrieveless loss. She was pre-eminently the sun shine of her home – the darling sister to each one of us; enjoying all bright, glad things in life, with keenest zest, interested in the smallest details if they were able to pleasure others, ready with quickest sympathies in joys as in sorrows & anxieties – always hopeful if hope were possible, and efficient in all things; at all times considerate & thoughtful for others, self-forgetting, loving, and most lovable.

She held her own rare worth of character, practical ability, and attainments in humblest estimation, always ready to think those she loved and valued brighter, better, & worthier than herself, yet realizing with a satisfaction as innocent & unconcealed as a child’s how much we all depended upon her – deferred to her taste, yielded to her influence, and clung to her love. Indeed, concealment of any kind was foreign, almost impossible to her. She ever kept her child-heart, and child frankness – a most transparent nature. We have so often laughed at her for the involuntary betrayal of unspoken feeling, by her silent but speaking face. She was our darling – our darling – the light and life of that sorrowing home in Philadelphia, whence the two who cared most and took most interest 3 years ago in filling it up – John[5] & Lizzie – are now forever gone.

My sisters[6] think Lizzie never really recovered the shock of my brother’s death, which was followed by a good deal of harassment & difficulty for them all for a few months, and by spring she was a good run down. Early in July she had a severe attack of sickness, which delayed her coming on here [to Boston], a week. She was poorly at Marion, and unlike herself – frequently saying “Girls, I am not myself, depend upon it I am going to wind up with some tremendous sickness this fall.” Of course we laughed off all such notions – but we felt troubled too…

She was growing very restless about getting home, fearing the cold weather would set in before she was able to travel. She bore the journey well – and for a few days kept about the house, and we began to hope her native air, so much softer than ours, and the rest of mind at being safe at home, would soon set her right. But other symptoms & maladies attacked her – severe suffering from gall-stones, enlargement of the liver, jaundice, and a turn which was a decided case of spotted fever – all accompanied by distressing nausea and prostration – the utter rejection of food.

Early in November, the nausea left her – once more she rallied. Her cough was almost gone – but still she wasted away. Dr. Evans[7] told them she needed to be roused, that she would never get well if allowed to yield to her nervous depression,[8] that he really hoped she might be called convalescent at last, with nothing to do but eat & drink, drive out for air, and gain strength.

The lungs sounded well – she rarely expectorated, and only once or twice shewed any streaks of blood in it; but still there was this discouraging waste of flesh. On Thursday Nov. 23d. she breakfasted, as usual, without much relish, but still able to retain the food; soon after they noticed a decided sinking, with very short rapid breathing and palpitation of the heart. Dr. Evans said the irritation had suddenly spread from lungs to brain, affecting the nerves which led to the heart.

On Sunday they telegraphed to me that she could not survive another day. Frank & I started at 8 o’c Monday – reached N. York in full time to take the six o’clock train for Philad., hardly with a hope that she would still be living; but about 9½ o’c p.m. she had revived, after refusing to swallow and lying all day in a stupor of exhaustion and cold feet & hands, and a breath every gasp of which might be the last. When I went into the room she was talking in [a] clear, hollow, unnatural voice to Mary, stroking her face with her own wasted hand, and begging she would undress & lie down – then rambling off – but always coming back to the idea, that every one should lie down & rest & be comfortable…

On Sunday they telegraphed to me that she could not survive another day.

Next morning while I was watching outside, Mary gave her some orange wh. she relished, and then said “Nin[9] has a splendid orange for you, would you like her to bring it in?” and so I picked up the biggest orange and went in. She did not seem at all startled – I was with her here in her early sickness and she did not seem to realize I had not been throughout.

And oh I can never be thankful enough, that I was with her those few last precious days, so inexpressibly comforting now to all who love her, for they left with us the blessed knowledge that she died strong in faith, & upheld by God’s gracious love while passing through the dark valley of the shadow of death. Having very little natural fortitude, timid & shrinking as a child from pain & fear, with an instinctive horror of death & the grave, she yet went down into the eternal shadow, through which alone we enter upon the eternal light, fully knowing whereunto her steps were tending, with a soul stayed upon God, and a heart subdued in peace to His will.

For this crowning comfort & mercy oh God, we thank thee, even from “out of the depths!”

Continued here.

Notes

[1] Elizabeth Kearney Shober (1821–1865).

[2] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[3] Mary Morris Shober (1816–1873), the eldest Shober sister.

[4] The diarist’s eldest son Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904).

[5] Mrs. Gray’s elder brother John Bedford Shober (1814–1864).

[6] The others were Susanna Budd Shober (1823–1898?) and Sarah Morris Shober (1825–1917).

[7] The Shober family doctor in Philadelphia.

[8] This diagnosis prefigures the treatment for Dr. Gray’s depression during his final illness – and was about as effective.

[9] The diarist’s nickname in the Shober family: Regina became Nin.

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About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

3 thoughts on “‘Rest & be comfortable’

  1. Scott, thank you again for sharing the diary of this marvellous woman. Each entry takes us back to ‘another time,’ and what a pleasure that has been.

  2. Having lost my own dear sister earlier this year, without an opportunity to say goodbye to her, I was much moved by Regina’s diary entries about the loss of her own beloved sister. Thank you for sharing this eloquently written diary.

  3. Such heartbreak. She echoes the feelings of those of us who have lost a sibling. Thank you for sharing this lovely woman’s diary. I look forward to each installment.

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