July 31, 2011

Death of Phoebe Cary: Nearer Home

The Ohio-born Phoebe Cary died in Newport, Rhode Island on July 31, 1871, having outlived her sister Alice Cary by about five months. Her last few moments were allegedly restless, until she finally threw up her arms and called out, "O God, have mercy on my soul!" They were recorded as her last words.

It was said that she could not live without her sister, who had died of tuberculosis, but Phoebe also suffered from hepatitis. Alice had been laid to rest in New York's Green-Wood Cemetery in the frozen ground covered with snow; Phoebe's burial took place on a scorching, summer day. At her funeral, the choir read Phoebe's hymn "Nearer Home":

One sweetly solemn thought
    Comes to me o'er and o'er;
I am nearer home to-day
    Than I ever have been before;

Nearer my Father's house,
    Where the many mansions be;
Nearer the great white throne,
    Nearer the crystal sea;

Nearer the bound of life,
    Where we lay our burdens down;
Nearer leaving the cross,
    Nearer gaining the crown!

But lying darkly between,
    Winding down through the night,
Is the silent, unknown stream,
    That leads at last to the light.

Closer and closer my steps
    Come to the dread abysm:
Closer Death to my lips
    Presses the awful chrism.

Oh, if my mortal feet
    Have almost gained the brink;
If it be I am nearer home
    Even to-day than I think;

Father, perfect my trust;
    Let my spirit feel in death,
That her feet are firmly set
    On the rock of a living faith!

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