The Little Life So Soon Begun Is Ended

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, May 23, 1914: The little life so soon begun is ended.

DSC02375Recent photo of the house Besse lived in when I was a child. I’m not sure if this was where she lived in 1914.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Oh. . . Grandma,

I’m so sorry. What happened? . . . Are you okay? . . . How’s Besse doing?

Grandma’s three-day-old niece died. She was the daughter of Grandma’s older sister Besse and her husband Curt.

Grandma was worried about her niece the day she was born—but the diary entries the next two days suggested that everything was going to be okay— yet obviously something went wrong.

I try never to go ahead in the diary—yet somehow it doesn’t feel quite right that I didn’t clue all of you in that it wasn’t going to be a happy ending. I apologize if I should have foreshadowed the pending death.

This has been a hard series of posts to write. It almost feels like all of this is happening in real time—not a hundred years ago—to people I love and care about.

65 Responses

  1. Oh no! No wonder people died of broken hearts or had shortened life spans because of this kind of grief upon grief. How sad.

    • It had to be so difficult. I’ve ofter walked by cemetery plots where there are several gravestones for children who died at birth or shortly thereafter. This series of diary entries has made me more aware of pain and grief each of those stones represents. .

  2. No,life gives us no foreshadowing of whether we get a happy ending. You don’t need to edit your grandmpther’s life for us. I would like to know more about why Bessie had such bad fortune in childbirth,but we won’t be able to do more than speculate, since we can’t ask questions after a hundred years

    • I’ve wondered whether the babies were premature or if there were birth injuries. I’ve also wondered whether modern neonatal units might have been able to save the babies. Some things are definitely better now.

  3. The sadness reaches down over the years, and I’m sure that the pain for you in sharing the diary over the last few days has been very real.

    • Some feelings are universal. As a mother, I can’t help feeling intense emotions when hearing that an infant didn’t survive–even if it happened many years ago.

  4. What sadness ~ for all the family through the generations. Heartfelt sympathy years for then and now.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I hadn’t thought about it quite that way, but you’re right; events like this do affect families across the generations. I wonder how this event affected how Grandma felt, and what she worried about, when she had her first pregnancy, 8 years or so after this diary entry.

  5. I think it really does bring it home to you a lot more when you are reading your family’s first hand account of it. So much closer and emotional than getting a certificate to find out what happened.

    You are very lucky to have her diary, so precious. I do love reading your posts.

    • You’re absolutely right–Death certificates and tombstones somehow take away all of the raw emotion that people felt at the time. I am very fortunate to have the diary.

  6. So sad. I hope that as time goes on Besse has a happy life with a child.

  7. Reading a diary like this does make it personal. Many people get attached to soap opera characters or those in the latest novel. A diary is what actually happened to flesh and blood people. Don’t ever feel you need to apologize for your own feelings, Sheryl!

    • Thank you for the kind words. I like how you differentiate between fictional characters and the real people in the diary. Your explanation makes a lot of sense to me.

  8. Oh, this makes me want to cry….. As soon as I saw the title of your post in my email list, I knew what had happened.
    Please….don’t apologize; as the others have commented, I think your blog is such a wonderful insight to life a hundred years ago. But posts like this does make it seem as though it’s happening now.
    Have a good weekend, Sheryl – thanks again for sharing your Grandma’s diary with all of us.

  9. Oh my…how sad for them all.

  10. No apologies needed. This is a painfully realistic glimpse into life one hundred years ago when life was so much more tenuous. Poor Besse and Curt and all of them.

  11. Bless the baby’s heart. The little ones had a tough go of it back then. No apologies necessary. Reading day to day is like living a snippet in a time warp one day at a time. Thanks so much for sharing this precious diary with all it’s good and sad entries.

    • Times were so different back then. . . The medical advances over the past hundred years sure have improved the odds of survival for at-risk infants.

  12. Oh that’s just awful! Poor Besse must have been shattered to lose a second full term baby.

  13. I agree with EC, no apology necessary. This is so sad. What terrible luck. Did Besse ever have children who lived? I know this is 100 years ago but I feel like I’ve gotten to know everyone and I was surprised at my tears reading this post.
    Diana xo

  14. You were right, but it is sad. How poetic her comment is.

  15. I am sad for Bessie and the family. This had to be difficult for them.

  16. Oh, so sudden. What a shock. I wish we knew why?

  17. Very sad indeed! It always is when things like this happens! :(

  18. True. The grief is so present. I have tears in my eyes.

    • So do I. Somehow the passage of a hundred years doesn’t remove the intensity of the feelings conveyed in this short diary entry.

  19. So sad! I hope Besse’s story has some bright spots ahead.

  20. Tragic. I hope Bessie eventually had a baby that lived long.

  21. How very sad, I am glad that you did not give any hints and that we can follow the diary as written, the happy and the sad too.

    • That’s the difficult–yet amazing thing about using a diary as the basis for this blog. There are many days that are just average typical days–but there are the occasional entries that are either very sad or very happy. I guess that’s sort of the way events tend to unfold in a person’s actual life.

  22. Time compresses when you hear sad things like this. Please accept my sincere condolences both now and back through all the decades.

    • You’re absolutely right that time compresses when sad events like this occur. You put into words what I’d been thinking, but didn’t know how to express in words.

  23. How very sad. I hope her sister later had another child who grew up healthy.

  24. Oh! This certainly shocked me that the little one passed away. So sad; a nephew and now a niece. Now I wonder if Aunt Bessie had any more children….

  25. Isn’t it amazing how we get tied up in the lives of our ancestors, almost as if we’re there with them. Sometimes I want to say to bloggers who just learned about an ancestor’s untimely death, I’m so sorry for your loss. I don’t have diaries but when I see newspaper articles and obituaries, I sometimes weep. Poor Besse and her family.

    You might be able to get a death certificate for the baby, and possibly a birth certificate, too. I know Pennsylvania has finally begun opening their vital records but I can’t remember when the state began keeping birth records. If there was local newspaper that was the newsy/gossipy kind, you might find something about the baby in it.

    • I know what you mean. I have a similar reaction sometimes when I read old obituaries of people I don’t know. Often the stories are so poignant and sad.

      Thank you for the suggestion to look for the death certificate. It sounds like Pennsylvania is opening up a wonderful resource.

  26. I believe that you handled the sequence well. As we read a journal we usually would not skip ahead to find out how something ended.

    However, I did look at a census report after the death of the first child to see what children they had later and knew a bit of the story already.

  27. Oh how sad. Some people believe that it was easier back then when children/babies died because it was so common. I have always disagreed remembering the story of the death of my Great Grandmother’s second child (who joined his brother in an adjacent grave)… It rained the night he was buried and his mother ran out into the rain and covered his grave with his baby blanket to keep him dry :-(.

  28. Very sad and your Grandmothers sense of foreboding was obviously legitimate.

  29. I am sure that reading these entries are indeed bringing you even closer to your family. How sad that the little girl died. Sudden infant death was common – I wonder if that was it since she seemed like a healthy infant. Besse’s heart must have broken – I know mine was when I read it. To lose two children is unimaginable. I did read tomorrows post so know what happens, but from my own grandmother and mother’s experience you never do get over the death of your child no matter how old or how young they are.

  30. […] lumped together into one diary entry. Her infant niece, the daughter of her sister Besse, died on May 23. Yesterday’s post contained the death certificate for the […]

  31. How awful! Do you think your Grandma was nervous in the previous days soley because she didn’t want the same thing to happen that had happened before? Or do you think you had an intuitive feeling of some kind as well?

    (For what it’s worth, I don’t think you were wrong to not warn us. If you changed your approach once you’d be left with questions about whether or not to change on future occasions and it could be difficult deciding.)

  32. […] married sister Besse recently lost a baby. The three-day-old infant died on May 23. This was her second newborn to die. She also lost a baby in […]

  33. […] a fun and relaxing time for both sisters. It probably was just what Besse needed after the recent death of her infant daughter. . . and Grandma sounds like she enjoyed having her oldest sister around for a few […]

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