On this day in 1897, Mark Twain wrote a lyrical, heavy-hearted letter from London to the Rev. Joseph Twichell in Hartford, Connecticut. It was his closest friend.
Twain’s 24-year-old daughter, Susy, had died from meningitis the previous summer. He would forever consider it the most devastating loss of his life. He’d been traveling overseas and missed her last days. The following winter, on this day in 1897, he wrote about the ways in which his daughter’s death affected him, and about the gratitude he felt for his pastor friend’s uniquely perfect sense of sympathy. His letter is a lament of great grief intertwined with an ode to his friend’s great compassion. Twain wrote to his best friend of 40 years:
“I do not want most people to write [to me], but I do want you to do it. The others break my heart, but you will not. You have a something divine in you that is not in other men. You have the touch that heals, not lacerates. And you know the secret places of our hearts. You know our life — the outside of it — as the others do — and the inside of it — which they do not. You have seen our whole voyage. You have seen us go to sea, a cloud of sail — and the flag at the peak; and you see us now, chartless, adrift — derelicts; battered, water-logged, our sails a ruck of rags, our pride gone. For it is gone. And there is nothing in its place. The vanity of life was all we had, and there is no more vanity left in us. We are even ashamed of that we had; ashamed that we trusted the promises of life and builded high — to come to this!
“I did know that Susy was part of us; I did not know that she could go away; I did not know that she could go away, and take our lives with her, yet leave our dull bodies behind. And I did not know what she was. To me she was but treasure in the bank; the amount known, the need to look at it daily, handle it, weigh it, count it, realize it, not necessary; and now that I would do it, it is too late; they tell me it is not there, has vanished away in a night, the bank is broken, my fortune is gone, I am a pauper. How am I to comprehend this? How am I to have it? Why am I robbed, and who is benefited?”
And Mark Twain wrote to him in that same letter:
“I am working, but it is for the sake of the work — the ‘surcease of sorrow’ that is found there. I work all the days, and trouble vanishes away when I use that magic. … I have many unwritten books to fly to for my preservation.”
– from the Writer’s Almanac, January 19, 2011
I posted this in January right after my second miscarriage. Mark Twain’s words rang so true for me then and even truer for me now. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is a little comforting to know that what I feel is, in a way, universal.
It has been almost 6 weeks now and the thing that strikes me the most is that … she’s still gone. She’s still not here. Days go by and every single day she just is not here. She is still gone. That is never going to change.