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  • For Katharine Coman's Family and Innermost Circle of FriendsNot for Print nor in any way for General Circulation
  • Katharine Lee Bates

Because it fell to me, in the friendship which remains my joy and blessing, to know the successive stages of Katharine's long suffering, I would like to set down, in simplest fashion and only for the eyes of those who have love's right to see, the history of her illness. Not for the illness itself; it would have been intolerable to watch the slow destruction of that beautiful body had it not been for the victory of soul. Katharine had always expected of her body wholesomeness and strength, assured that surgery and inward, stealthy, devouring disease would never come to her. Even last June she wrote me from New York that the one thing she could not bear would be a wasting, painful illness.

She had them all to bear,—everything that was most abhorrent to her nature. She prayed God to spare her one bitter cup after another; she seconded her prayers with the finest and firmest endeavors toward the regaining of health. Her efforts were all in vain; no miracle was wrought for her; God spared her nothing.

And through it all her Christian faith, which in Katharine was one with faithfulness, never faltered. When God hurt her most, she trusted Him most. In His will was her peace. As I look back on Katharine's martyrdom, I see no longer pain and death; I see only the shining of her spirit.

Katharine's glory of health and vigor, her abounding, glad vitality, seemed so essentially herself that I was slow to recognize the first approaches of illness. In 1905 I began to be troubled by her severe and exhausting headaches, but I thought she was only tired and that our open-air summer in England, in 1906, would set her right again. Throughout that holiday summer, however, she showed such serious evidences of nervous strain that my anxieties began in earnest. Her physician suggested an operation, but thought it might safely be postponed, hoping that meanwhile nature would remedy the difficulty, and Katharine went on with her work as simply as if nothing were amiss. Her most important book, The Economic Beginnings of the Far West, was joyfully and persistently wrought out, through travel, study and writing, during years which by many women would have been given over to wretched invalidism.

The operation, which had become imperative, took place at the Newton Hospital, June 1, 1911. The decision was a sudden one. Katharine's college courses were already announced for the coming year. The book on which she had worked so earnestly and long, against such odds, was not quite finished. But she put all her cherished plans aside and, knowing that the chances hung evenly between life and death, faced her ordeal with a tranquil courage that had cost her, however, many a secret battle. A physician consulted in Chicago had made the [End Page 74] mistake, carried away by scientific enthusiasm, of showing her colored diagrams illustrating every phase of the critical surgery involved, and those pictures, with their suggestion of the desecration of the body, gave Katharine "a nightmare week." But strengthened, as she believed, by her dear mother, who had died that spring, she commended her spirit and was as cheerfully serene, on the morning of the operation, as she had ever been. She dreaded death only for the grief it would bring to those who loved her. "But I should not leave you comfortless," she wrote just before she went to the table. "I would come to you as my mother comes to me in my best moments when my heart is open to her."

The operation proved successful, and the long, weary convalescence, first at Miss Cornelia Warren's beautiful home, Cedar Hill in Waltham, and then in a rented cottage at Twin Lake, New Hampshire, was made far easier by the deft and tender ministrations of her niece Carol.1 Sigurd [the collie] and I were with them there, and in September came Miss Warren. Katharine returned to the Scarab at the end of that...


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