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[454]

Helen Eliza Garrison (1876).

Remarks at the funeral services of Mrs. Garrison, 125 Highland Street, Roxbury, Thursday, January 27, 1876.

How hard it is to let our friends go! We cling to them as if separation were separation forever; and yet, as life nears its end, and we tread the last years together, have we any right to be surprised that the circle grows narrow; that so many fall, one after another, at our side? Death seems to strike very frequently; but it is only the natural, inevitable fate, however sad for the moment.

Some of us can recollect, only twenty years ago, the large and loving group that lived and worked together; the joy of companionship, sympathy with each other,--almost our only joy, for the outlook was very dark, and our toil seemed almost vain. The world's dislike of what we aimed at, the social frown, obliged us to be all the world to each other; and yet it was a full life. The life was worth living; the labor was its own reward; we lacked nothing.

As I stand by this dust, my thoughts go freshly back to those pleasant years when the warp and woof of her life were woven so close to the rest of us; when the sight of it was such an inspiration. How cheerfully she took up daily the burden of sacrifice and effort! With what serene courage she looked into the face of peril to her own life, and to those who were dearer to her than [455] life! A young bride brought under such dark skies, and so ready for them! Trained among Friends, with the blood of martyrdom and self-sacrifice in her veins, she came so naturally to the altar! And when the gallows was erected in front of the young bride's windows, never from that stout soul did the husband get look or word that bade him do anything but go steadily forward, and take no counsel of man. Sheltered in the jail, a great city hunting for his life, how strong he must have been when they brought him his young wife's brave words: “I know my husband will never betray his principles!” Helpmeet, indeed, for the pioneer in that terrible fight!

The most unselfish of human beings, she poured all her strength into the lives of those about her, without asking acknowledgment or recognition, unconscious of the sacrifice. With marvellous ability, what would have been weary burdens to others, she lifted so gayly! A young mother, with the cares of a growing family, not rich in means, only her own hands to help, yet never failing in cheerful welcome to every call; doing for others as if her life was all leisure and her hands full. What rare executive ability, doing a great deal, and so easily as to never seem burdened! Who ever saw her reluct at any sacrifice her own purpose or her husband's made necessary? No matter how long and weary the absence, no matter how lonely he left her, she cheered and strengthened him to the sacrifice if his great cause asked it. The fair current of her husband's grand purpose swept on unchecked by any distracting anxiety. Her energy and unselfishness left him all his strength free for the world's service.

Many of you have seen her only in years when illness hindered her power. You can hardly appreciate the large help she gave the Antislavery movement. [456]

That home was a great help. Her husband's word and pen scattered his purpose far and wide; but the comrades that his ideas brought to his side her welcome melted into friends. No matter how various and discordant they were in many things; no matter how much there was to bear and overlook,--her patience and her thanks for their sympathy in the great idea were always sufficient for this work also. She made a family of them, and her roof was always a home for all. I never shall forget the deep feeling — his voice almost breaking to tears — with which Henry C. Wright told me of the debt his desolate life owed to this home. And who shall say how much that served the great cause?

Yet drudgery did not choke thought; care never narrowed her interest. She was not merely the mother, or head of the home; her own life and her husband's moved hand in hand in such loving accord, seemed so exactly one, that it was hard to divide their work. At the fireside; in the hours, not frequent, of relaxation; in scenes of stormy debate,--that beautiful presence, of rare sweetness and dignity, what an inspiration and power it was! And then the mother,--fond, painstaking, faithful! No mother who bars every generous thought out from her life, and in severe seclusion forgets everything but her children,--no such mother was ever more exact in every duty, ready for every care, faithful at every point, more lavish in fond thoughtfulness, than this mother, whose cares never narrowed the broad idea of life she brought from her girlhood's home.

Who can forget her modest dignity — shrinkingly modest, yet ever equal to the high place events called her to? In that group of remarkable men and women which the Antislavery movement drew together, she had her own niche, which no one else could have filled so perfectly or unconsciously as she did. And in that [457] rounded life no over zeal in one channel, no extra service at one point, needs be offered as excuse for short. coming elsewhere. She forgot, omitted nothing. How much we all owe to her! She is not dead,--she has gone before; but she has not gone away. Nearer than ever, this very hour she watches and ministers to those in whose lives she was so wrapped; to whose happiness she was so devoted. Who thinks that loving heart could be happy if it were not allowed to minister to those she loved? How easy it is to fancy the welcome the old faces have given her! The honored faces, the familiar faces, the old tones, that have carried her back to the pleasant years of health and strength and willing labor! How gladly she broke the bonds that hindered her activity! There are more there than here. Very slight the change seems to her. She has not left us, she has rejoined them. She has joined the old band that worked life-long for the true and good. The dear, familiar names, how freshly they come to our lips! We can see them bend over and lift her up to them, to a broader life: Faith is sight to-day. She works on a higher level; ministers to old ideas; guards those she went through life with so lovingly. Even in that higher work they watch for our coming also. Let the years yet spared us here be a warning to make ourselves fit for that companionship!

The separation is hard. Nature will have its way. “The heart knoweth its own bitterness,” and for a while loves to dwell on it. But the hour is just here, knocking at the door, when we shall thank God not only for the long years of companionship and health and example which she has given us, but for this great relief: that, in fulness of time, in loving-kindness, He hath broken the bond which hindered her. No heaven that is not a home to her. She worked with God here, and [458] He has taken her into His presence. We are sad because of the void at our side. It is hard to have the path so empty around us. We miss that face and those tones. But that is the body; limited, narrow, of little faith. The soul shines through in a moment, sees its own destiny, and thanks God for the joyous change. We draw sad breaths now. We miss the magnet that kept this home together. We miss the tie that bound so lovingly into one life so many lives; that is broken. We peer into the future, and fear for another void still, and a narrower circle, not knowing which of us will be taken next. With an effort of patience — with half submission -we bow to God's dealings. That is only for an hour. In a little while we shall remember the grand life; we shall thank God for the contribution it has made to the educating forces of the race, for the good it has been prompted to do, for the part it had strength to play in the grandest drama of our generation,--and then with our eyes lifted, and not dimmed by tears, we shall be able to say out of a full heart: “Thou doest all things well. Blessed be Thy name! Blessed be Thy name for the three score overflowing years; for the sunny sky she was permitted finally to see, the hated name made immortal, the perilled life guarded by a nation's gratitude, for the capstone put on with shoutings; that she was privileged to enter the promised land and rest in the triumph, with the family circle unbroken, all she loved about her! And blessed be Thy name, Father, that in due time, with gracious and tender lovingkindness, Thou didst break the bonds that hindered her true life, and take her to higher service in Thine immediate presence”

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Helen Eliza Garrison (2)
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