Lincoln Discussion Symposium

Full Version: Mary Lincoln's presence at Abraham's death-bed
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I counseled a recently widowed female patient today. She told me how important it was to her that she spend the last few hours with her husband as he was dying. It later struck me that Mary Lincoln was deprived of this. I know there were other considerations to factor in pertaining to Lincoln's death-but Mary was, in the end, not allowed to be with her husband at his end. Was this an injustice to her? Was it unusual for the wife of a dying husband to not be with him the entire time? Was Stanton being inconsiderate of her? Why wouldn't it be allowed for her to show strong emotion at that time?
It is my understanding that when Mary was allowed to see her dying husband, she would become hysterical and have loud outburst of wailing and uncontrollable expressions of grief.
Gene-yes-and I'm saying that her reaction was her right-and that it was to be expected-her husband was shot sitting right next to her-was it fair to her that she would be barred from her husband in his dying hours? It strikes me as cruel.
Wasn't it Stanton who had some problem or unnatural fear of death? Maybe he is the one who should have been barred from being with Lincoln.

(A typical case of scapegoating someone else for one's own issues.)

And it seems a little strange that Stanton should occupy the position of Secretary of War, with his death issues, particularly at the time he did.
Mary's last visit to her husband's bedside was apparently about 20 minutes before he passed. Mary's friend, Elizabeth Lord Cogswell Dixon, wife of Senator James Dixon, was with her. On May 1 Mrs. Dixon described the scene in a letter to her sister:

"At that hour, just as the day was struggling with the dim candles in the room, we went in again. Mrs. Lincoln must have noticed a change for the moment she looked at him, she fainted and fell upon the floor. I caught her in my arms and held her to the window which was open, the rain falling heavily.

"She again seated herself by the President, kissing him and calling him every endearing name, the surgeons counting every pulsation and noting every breath gradually growing less and less. Then they asked her to go into the adjoining room, and in twenty minutes came in and said, 'It is all over! The President is no more!'"

Dr. Leale described the final visit this way:

"During the night Mrs. Lincoln came frequently from the adjoining room accompanied by a lady friend. At one time Mrs. Lincoln exclaimed, sobbing bitterly: "Oh! that my little Taddy might see his father before he died!" This was decided not advisable. As Mrs. Lincoln sat on a chair by the side of the bed with her face to her husband's his breathing became very stertorous and the loud, unnatural noise frightened her in her exhausted, agonized condition. She sprang up suddenly with a piercing cry and fell fainting to the floor. Secretary Stanton hearing her cry came in from the adjoining room and with raised arms called out loudly: "Take that woman out and do not let her in again." Mrs. Lincoln was helped up kindly and assisted in a fainting condition from the room. Secretary Stanton's order was obeyed and Mrs. Lincoln did not see her husband again before he died."
I think Stanton's words were cruel and I wonder if she recognized them. It's normal that due to the situation she was hysteric, but that's no reason to ban her and let her miss a decisive moment for which she never could make up again. I wonder how she felt about this. Did she ever comment on this later?
IMO, Stanton did the right thing. She needed to be removed from the situation causing her hysteria.
Mary and Stanton remained close.
What harm would 10 more minutes have done compared to feeling for the rest of her life that she wasn't with her husband when he passed away?
Who knew at that time that Lincoln would pass before she recovered? She was out of control and needed to be cared for immediately. Would tearing her hair out be the signal to remove her? What we do know is that it was a pretty ugly scene and no one protested Stanton's order. Therefore, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
It was a very stressful night for all, a terrible tragedy, everyone was tired, and none of the political leadership was sure about their own safety and the security of the city. Stanton may not have shown the compassion that he should have, but he was under an enormous pressure to find the assassins and to prepare against a sudden southern military and terroristic insurgence.

Unfortunately, Mary's reaction and response to what had happened (her loud crying and expressions of grief) probably increased the tension in the Peterson's house.
I think Gene's assessment of the situation is probably very accurate. Stanton was not a warm and fuzzy personality; his concern for the safety of the Union was paramount; and Mrs. Lincoln was already perceived as a "deranged" individual because of her previous, unseemly behaviors in public.

Despite the images we may have of our forefathers being gallant gentlemen in their dealings with females, our foremothers were not always considered important except for producing children and meals. The feelings of Mary Lincoln were likely not uppermost in any of those men's minds at 7:00 am on April 15, 1865.
Stanton certainly didn't handle the situation well, in fact I agree he was downright cruel to Mary, but I wonder if he thought that Mary was disturbing Lincoln. Perhaps he wanted to give the dying man some peace in which to die.

Lincoln died 20 minutes after Mary left. Perhaps she was holding him back in some way? I heard of someone who left their dying relative for a moment and that's when the relative died.

Maybe someone can address this who has experience with dying people being told it's okay to "let go."
When my mother died I was the only sibling who was in the hospital, but I had stepped outside her room to talk with my sister-in-law (although Mom was not alone at the time) and that's when her breathing stopped. I never thought about it being anything more than a coincidence. At first we were telling her it was OK to let go, but then my oldest sister felt weird about doing it because my mother had fought for so long and we didn't want her to think we had given up (although it was obvious that she wasn't going to last the night). The one thing we all discussed was could she even hear us? She was in a coma for the last two days of her life and I still don't know if she could or not.

I think that what Stanton did might seem cruel to us, but in the context of what was going on, Mary's shrieking and wailing did no one any good. I would have sent her out as well.

I believe that Nelson Mandela's family is being accused of not letting him go right now. A daughter gave an explanation as to why they remain at his bedside, but I forget what she said, but it was part of their religious beliefs. I heard this morning that he is now on life support. I cannot imagine that that courageous man would want that.

Two personal experiences: My father died of cancer in a military hospital. We knew for several days that the end was near, so my mother and I maintained a vigil during the hours that we were permitted to be there. I had called my in-laws to come help watch my six-year-old, and my mother and I left the hospital just long enough to meet them and let them in the house. In total, the absence was no more than about fifty minutes.

As we returned to the base and were within a mile of the hospital, I was suddenly overwhelmed with one of the funniest feelings I have ever experienced. To this day, I can only describe it as the thirty-second bout of flu! It took us about fifteen more minutes to reach the hospital, park, and get to Dad's room. The sheet had been pulled over his face, and a corpsman told us that he had died about fifteen minutes before. I have always thought that my "flu" attack marked the moment that my father died.

The second story is related to my mother's death. She was a strong 94-year-old up until the last year of her life when congestive heart failure hit. One week before the end, she had to be sent from the hospital to a nursing home. She had made a medical directive years before for no unusual measures, and I only caved in once when it was obvious that the pressure in her lungs was very uncomfortable - despite her being in a coma. They pumped her lungs, but did not do life support.

The staff was very kind and allowed me to stay with her twenty-four hours a day. I actually slept in the bed next to her's for three nights. They also told me that one's hearing is the last to go, so I talked with her, sang songs and hymns, reminisced about my childhood, etc. On the fourth day, it was obvious that the end was near. I was by myself that morning while my daughter was attending the funeral of her fiance's son (14-year-old murdered by a gang because he wouldn't join the gang!). One of my daughter's friends called me on my cell to see how I was doing, and I told her that Mom was almost gone. She said, "Are the curtains open?" Yes, I had kept them open the whole time. She then said, "Open the window a little bit." It was June 3rd, so I could.

This friend was raised in what we used to call The Holy Rollers - I guess that it is a Pentecostal faith today. They believed that opening the curtains and the window near a dying person would tell them that it was time to go. It worked. Mom passed away exactly at 10 am as my daughter was entering the church behind her future stepson's casket. We said that Mom left us to go take care of him.

In 1865, I doubt that Edwin Stanton knew that the hearing was the last sense to be taken away before death. However, Linda is probably right that he wanted Lincoln to have quiet in his final moments. It just seemed right.

One last comment: The thread about PTSD may very well be accurate. Up until 2009, my daughter had not experienced dealing with the death of loved ones. She had been too young to understand when her grandpa died. In 2009, she lost a future stepson on May 31, her beloved grandmother on June 3, her other grandmother in October, and the break-up with her fiance at Christmas. He could not deal with his son's loss, nor accept the fact that, despite being a deputy sheriff, he could not save his own son.

PTSD hit my daughter and lasted for nearly two years. She still has memories of that sad period and finds that visiting her grandmother's grave and talking with her helps. That said, does anyone know if Mrs. Lincoln visited her husband's grave at all before her death nearly twenty years later?
I think that everyone that posted a reply has a valid answer for what they think was right or wrong as to how Stanton handled Mrs. Lincoln on that horrible night/day. I don't think there is any right or wrong answer because everyone has different feelings about what was the right thing to do depending on their own life experiences and moral character. I have to agree some what with what Laurie said about that time period in history and how woman were not viewed or treated as they are today. That is very sad but true. So being in that time period and all that was going on in Washington and the unimaginable stress on Stanton who are we to say what he did was right or wrong? I guess it is easy for us to judge him now in the comfort of our home or office not knowing what he knew and felt at the time. Just my opinion. Best Gary
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