January 29, 2009

On Loss

I began processing Mary Johnson Brown Chew's materials yesterday. As I was working on a rough sorting, I was leafing through the various journals and diaries that she kept. The first one I opened was begun on Christmas Eve 1886, when her husband Samuel seemed to be moving closer toward death. She recounts the evening as being a happy one "because our dearest Sam was able to join us and he seemed to enjoy the delight of the children + to receive so gladly all the loving gifts that were offered to him...." The journal trails off for a few days, and then she picks up again on New Year's Eve 1886. She writes, "The Shadows fall darkly around us..."

Mary begins her entry on New Years Day 1887 with the words "A sad New Year dawns upon us today." There is a poignant sense of coming to terms with the inevitability of her husband's death that strikes me as being so divorced from the real emotional impact of this impending loss. She writes of her faith and trust in "His Mercy" as she is "dreading the dark future," illustrating her strong Christian beliefs, and her sense that she and her family will be cared for and healed by a personal relationship with their God.

The journal continues to recount events in the last days of Samuel's life, one of the most striking being a description of him waking in a kind of dream and engaging with the family within the dream state: "Tuesday January 4th--My Precious one about as yesterday but at night very restless and fancied we were all on board the Aurania + that the ship was sinking--So lovingly + tenderly he gathered us all together to try to save us--Bessy with such gentle tender tact as I have never seen equalled--soothed and coaxed him back to bed lay down beside him until he was quiet + slept--"

These entries are heart-breaking to read. I felt tears gathering in my eyes as I read the account of Samuel's death on Monday January 10, 1887. "At two o'clock our best beloved, softly gently drew his last breath--'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his Saints' He has gone to 'the King in his beauty, to the land that is very far off' and we are left desolate"

This Samuel Chew died just before his 55th birthday, leaving Mary Johnson Brown Chew to raise their children Samuel Jr., Anne, Bessie, Oswald and David Sands Brown Chew with the help of Anne Sophia Penn Chew and other family members.

In an entry on January 13, the day of his internment at Saint Luke's Church in Germantown, Mary writes "This day our precious one was laid in his last resting place... + I look forward to the dreary years when I must meet all the anxieties + perplexities of life Alone--without his living hand to lead me--but I remember there is another Hand which will guide me if only groping in the darkness and the gloom I can find it--"

Mary Johnson Brown Chew lived a full 40 years after Samuel's death. During the remainder of her life, she carried on Samuel's devotion to the Chew family history, taking on the responsibility of maintaining Cliveden and keeping the home in the family.

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