I love her more than anything in the world & always have
Martha Gellhorn writes from her mother's death bed
Martha Gellhorn was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1908, one of three children to suffragist Edna and gynaecologist George Gellhorn. By the time of her death in 1998, she had gained a solid reputation as one of the greatest war correspondents in modern history, best known for her reporting during the Spanish Civil War and World War II. In 1970, aged sixty-two, she moved to Knightsbridge where she would stay for the rest of her life. This was also the year that her beloved mother, Edna—once a leading activist and similarly driven—would pass away, aged ninety-one. It was at her ailing mother’s side, as she awaited the inevitable, that Martha wrote to her friend, Lucy Moorehead.
Here I am by my mother’s death bed, waiting with her, day after day, for her escape. Her face never looked tormented in life, and now it looks as if exhaustion had become pain. She is thin as Belsen, bones and skin. I can’t stop crying when I am with her – and the rest of the time I have a sensation of operating in somebody else’s dream, not real. Nothing makes sense or is bearable. I think of you, 10 days beside Alan’s bedside while he was in a coma. If you live long enough you will learn as much as you can endure. But I always think of the concentration camps in order to give myself a good long view on whatever strains I live through. Only this anguish is for her – when awake, though her eyes are closed & she is too weak to make words – I know she knows, and thinks with despair, will I never be allowed to depart.
I love her more than anything in the world & always have, my one unfailing love, and now I long for her to die, to be permitted not to stay where nothing is left except this overpowering weariness.
I will stay with her as long as she breathes. Maybe she knows my arms are around her & that I kiss her hands and maybe feels less lonely. I’ve seen so much death but it was all quick. Quick is lucky. There is no God and no justice. This superb human being should not have to struggle day after endless day to leave. Her only passionate act of free will was to refuse food – the fool nurses push a few spoonsful of milk down her throat, three times a day, but I know she is doing the only thing left for her to stop it all.
Oh Lucy – does one come back into life, after this, with any slight ability for laughter?
The letter above is excerpted from Letters of Note: Mothers. More info here.
“Frankly, my dear, the whole thing is a stench in my nostrils”
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