TO ONE WHO COULD NOT STAY

Grace Shipley's engagement picture.

Picture of Grace Shipley’s engagement to   Ivan Ray Shepherd

Grace's son Ray at one year, and at age 5, two years after Grace's death.

Grace and Ivan’s son Ray at one year, and at age 6, three years after Grace’s death.

Dear Mom,

When your granddaughter Molly came for a visit and brought her children, Grace and Gannon, I reminded you that Grace had been named for Dad’s mother, a devoted and loving young woman who died of meningitis when Dad was only three years old.  When I told you this, you shook your head and said, “Oh?” And later, when I tried again, you asked, “Do I know her?  Was she my friend?”

No, Mom, you never actually knew Grace Shipley Shepherd.  But I do believe that you two became friends because of your grateful heart for the woman who gave birth to the baby…who grew into the man you married.

You don’t remember this, but thirty-eight years ago you wrote a poem to Grace.  You sometimes felt her presence, the spirit of the woman who lost her battle against a horrible disease and could not stay to take care of the little boy she loved so much.  You also wrote some beautiful, very personal letter-type essays to Grace, but I know you wouldn’t want those shared, so I won’t.

Here, Mom, is your poem “To Grace,” your tribute and comfort to the woman who had to leave her child behind.  Sometimes during clear moments when I’ve shown you pictures of Dad as a baby, held by his smiling mother, Grace, you pause and close your eyes.  I like to believe that now Dad is gone, reunited with the mother he lost too soon, he and Grace both smile and send their love and thanks to you.

TO GRACE, 1897-1922   ~  by Mary E. Shepherd

I watch him sleep, so like a little boy,

Content so long as his hand touches mine.

Husband, dad and granddad kind and dear,

The glint of dreams come true when our eyes meet.

 

I think of how, a three year old, he lost you,

His mother, whom he loved so very much.

You were so ill, a terrible pain within you,

Unable to express the love you knew.

 

Then when you died he sat in his daddy’s arms,

Aware that something great had left his life.

And when he looked upon your lifeless face

He searched in vain for the sweet smile he knew.

 

No one could take the place of his lost loved one,

Though his dad was good and did the best he could.

Grandma became the one who understood, his mainstay,

To help him through the years a young boy knew.

 

For fifty years my dearest, my husband and a little boy!

I’ve known the love you planted in his heart.

Kind, good, and loving, he shares my life each day,

As many paths we have traveled, side by side.

 

Together we have loved our little boy:

The one you gave to me.  

Engagement picture of Mary Elizabeth and Ray(Grace's son)

Engagement picture of Mary Elizabeth and Ray (Grace’s son)

Mary and Ray's great-grandchildren, Gannon (left) and Grace, named for Ray's mother, Grace

Mary and Ray’s great-grandchildren, Gannon (left) and  Grace  (named for Ray’s mother)

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60 Comments

Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, friends, lessons about life, making a difference, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren, Spiritual connections

60 responses to “TO ONE WHO COULD NOT STAY

  1. I can’t even speak. Too poignant. Thank your mother for writing this and sharing with us.

    • It took me hours to organize and rewrite, Julia. My dad’s mother, Grace, died at the same age (25) that my daughter gave birth to my granddaughter, Grace, and then spent 21 days in ICU with an aneurysm from the pre-eclampsia. I was swamped with so many emotions. But we saved our daughter and her daughter. My dad lost his mother when he was very young, and he was confused and lost and sad for a such long time. Life…

  2. What a sweet and tender story. How special it is to have a new little Grace in the family.

    • It is special, Lynne. She’s 9 now, but this is one of my mother’s favorite pictures of her great-grandchildren, so I used it. Plus, Gannon and Grace are redheaded, like their great-great-grandfather Ivan’s family instead of Grace’s family. But what we know of Grace Shipley, her great-great-granddaughter’s sweetness, kindness, humor and love of art came right from her.

  3. Alice

    My grandmother died of meningitis in 1936. It is swift footed. Lovely words supported with charming photos–or the other way around.

    • Grace died in 1922. It was spinal meningitis and only a few days from start to finish but brutal. One day my dad had a healthy mother, then she got ill and he went to visit his grandmother, and then everyone was crying and his world fell apart.

      • Alice

        My mother shared similar memories–she was an adult so was probably better able to process the terror. Yep–gone in two days.

      • My great-aunt (Ivan’s sister) once told me it was only three days from start to finish…and the most difficult three days she ever experienced, knowing there was nothing that could be done.

  4. What a wonderful poem and tribute. Thank you for sharing this treasure.

  5. Thank you, Rod. I’ve always felt my mother’s poem and devotion to the woman she never met was a treasure. I’m glad you appreciate it, too.

  6. What a tough story for such a young child. Your mom’s poem says it all. Beautiful.

    • Thanks. I’ve always been haunted by the two pictures of my dad. When he was a baby–cared for by a happy, loving mother–he was a happy, arms-open-to-the-world baby. He was three when suddenly she was gone, and according to my great aunt who helped care for him, he was always looking for his mother. In the picture when he’s six, he’s solemn and very serious. By the end of his sixth year, his father was remarrying a woman who was almost 20, and she wasn’t thrilled to have responsibility for a young boy. I can’t even imagine what it was like for him.

  7. Writing sometimes eases pain – a lovely poem

    • Absolutely, and my mother did a lot of writing about losing family members. She was in grade school when her own father died, but she had a strong mother and four siblings and an aunt who lived with them. Together they ran their farm. She wrote about that a lot, too.

  8. What a beautiful, poignant poem. A shame for the child who lost his mother, a shame for the husband who lost his wife and a shame for the mother who lost her life. Your mother expressed it well. x

    • So much loss, it is such a shame. I feel sorry for each of them. My mother told me years ago that she had a hard time writing the poem, expressing adequately her appreciation to the woman who had lost so much.

  9. These are special words which, one day, little Grace will love to read and cherish.

    • She’s already seen some of the art by her great-great-grandmother, and heard happy stories about her. But I think it will be awhile before she needs to learn about meningitis and how Grace died. But overall, I agree; some day she’ll appreciate her namesake even more.

  10. Jane Thorne

    This post is as graceful as the women who inspired it…what a wonderful legacy for little Grace…thank you Marylin. xx

  11. It is a hauntingly beautiful poem. The last two lines rendered me speechless.

  12. Once again Marylin, you show us that the love, thoughts and caring nature of your Mom was not just an add on but an in-built facet of her very being and this has clearly been passed on to you in the way that you compose these wonderful posts and share with the world. Xxxxxxxxxx

    • Oh, I hope so, Tom. Thank you.
      Actually, our daughter Molly inherited many of my mother’s amazing “in-built” qualities and personality traits, and for that I’ve very grateful.
      I hope all your medical tests had good results, and you’re back to full strength!

  13. Just beautiful. A lovely weaving together of your Mom’s gift with words with your own.

  14. This is a lovely tribute and the poem is absolutely beautiful…

  15. Thank you, what mysteries of love, hard to find words, Ellen

    • There are many mysteries between the living and the dead, and my mother had respect and love for the mother who had to leave her beloved little boy. She felt Grace’s presence and didn’t fear it.

  16. Lovely, but so sadly poignant, not only because of your father’s loss at such a young age, but what hits me even harder is the present loss of your mother’s memories. For her too have written such a touching and imaginative tribute, and then to lose the memories that inspired it, is so sad… There is nothing I can say in response to that, that makes any sense. There is only my feeling, which I can’t describe, that is at once profoundly sad and incredibly hopeful/beautiful. I think you know what I mean. You are able to describe the pain of change and loss, without losing sight of love and hope, even when the situation might feel hopeless. I admire your strength.

    • Thank you, Tracy, and I do know what you mean. The parallel is sad and hopeful at the same time. My mother kept the memory of Grace alive by writing journals and poems, and now that the memories are fading for my mother, I can only hope that the spirits of Grace and my dad hold them in safe keeping for my mother. I believe the connections of the three of them are strong.
      For the great-grandchildren, I hope my words–told in stories and written in the blog–will create memories of their maternal great-grandmother (my mother) as well as their paternal great-great-grandmother (Grace). I want them to know they are descendants of two wonderful, exceptional women.

  17. Beautiful connection, beautiful lives. All entwined by love.

  18. It seems you get your gift for words from your mother Marylin. This took me back to when my mother passed, my youngest brother being only 4 and me 14. No matter the reason, having a mother taken at such a tender age is a devastating blow. Thank you for sharing this poignant poem.

  19. You always speak of what is deepest and most important in life, and you always make me cry!

  20. Thanks, Michele. I hope it’s a good kind of crying!

  21. Oh how touching. Your mother’s poem is so heartfelt and I know so many people are looking down at you and your mother and smiling now xx

  22. I do kind of get that feeling, Christy, I really do. Thanks.

  23. Hi Marylin,
    You are going to have to mail me a case of tissues.
    Your story and your mom’s poem touched me once again.
    I so enjoyed this post and the family photos.
    Have a blessed week.
    Tracy 🙂

    • Blessings on you, too, Tracy.
      While I was placing the pictures in the blog, Grace as a young woman and then her son so different before and after her death, I also needed a few tissues.

  24. dianabletter

    I agree with Tracy that we need more tissues around here. But the only thing we can do is this: turn our sorrow into art. Thank you, Marylin, for sharing the photos and words!

  25. You’re very welcome, Diana. My mother’s poem–and her long journal about Grace–really proved the power of her pen in turning the sorrow into something meaningful.

  26. Did your father ever read the poem? I hope so. As I read it, I imagined your mother and father reading it together. Yes, pass the tissues.

    • She did share it with him later, Darla, and I remember him wiping his eyes and then telling a story of his mother Grace holding him when he was a little baby, walking with him and singing to him when he had colic (he didn’t actually remember it; the story had been told to him by his Aunt Addie Lee, who was touched by the scene of Grace and her baby boy).
      I don’t think my mother ever showed him her journal entires about Grace–she had a lot of anger against the stepmother who took Grace’s place but didn’t want her new husband’s little boy around, so he spent a lot of time living with his grandmother and aunts–Mom vented in her journals and didn’t want her words to make Dad feel bad.

  27. Wow! I need to head out to Costco for a case of tissue…..beautiful!

  28. This is so beautiful. You can really feel the love your mom had for your dad in every line of that poem, and the way that love connects her to a woman she’s never even met but somehow knows so well. Thank you for sharing.

  29. Hugs to your mother, so dear and loving. Grateful for the birth and seeds planted of her husband’s mother. So sad and like someone mentioned, beautifully poignant story and way your mother expressed her love. I cherish this post, Marylin. I am just going back in time, to your earlier posts, to get more glimpses of your mother and you, too! Smiles, Robin

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