THE LIFE OF
H P Blavatsky
1831 – 1891
How She Left Us
Laura M Cooper
This account of H P Blavatsky’s last days is taken from “In Memory of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky by Some of Her Pupils” Published 1891
It having been my privilege to be with H. P. B. during her last illness, and at the moment of her death, I have been asked to contribute my share to the "Memories" which have been written for the benefit of the brother and sister Theosophists, who being far away have not had the advantage of seeing and being with H. P. B. constantly.
It was on Tuesday, the 21st of April, that I went to stay at Headquarters for the few days, which, owing to the unexpected events that followed, turned into a visit of some weeks. H. P. B. seemed in her usual state of health, and on Thursday, the 23rd, attended the Lodge and remained chatting with the friends who surrounded her for some time after the proceedings of the evening were over; she then adjourned to her room where, according to their habit, members who live at Headquarters followed to sit with her while she took her coffee before retiring for the night. The following day, Friday, passed quietly over, giving no warning that a fortnight from that date our beloved H. P. B. would leave us. The next evening, Saturday, she was very bright. Dr. Mennell called and was perfectly satisfied with her condition. My sister, Mrs. Cooper-Oakley, and I, with one or two others, remained talking with her until eleven o'clock, when she retired with a cheery "Good night all ", apparently in her usual health. The next morning, however, H. P. B.'s maid came early to my room to tell me she had passed a very restless night and had been seized with shivering attacks. I went down shortly after, and the first glance shewed me that she was evidently in a high state of fever. The doctor was immediately sent for, and the day passed with H. P. B. alternately in a heavy sleep, or in a state of restlessness. Late in the afternoon Dr. Mennell came, pronounced the illness to be influenza; the fever was very high, her temperature being 105. Fearing the probable complications which might ensue owing to H. P. B.'s chronic illness, Dr. Mennell at once took a serious view of her case and said she must have with her, during the night, a responsible member of the household in addition to her maid, it being of the utmost importance that both medicine and food should be given punctually. The duty fell on me, for the Countess Wachtmeister being engaged in business all day could not sit up during the night, and my sister was not permitted by Dr. Mennell to do so, owing to the fact that in addition to being engaged in business she had recently been very ill.
From that memorable Sunday night, April 26th, began the succession of misfortunes, the illness of one member of the household after another, which culminated in the passing away of our beloved H. P. B. The hours slowly passed in alternations of restlessness and sleep, and with the morning came little or no change for the better. H. P. B. had her large armchair brought from her sitting room and placed by her bed, that she might be able to gain a little ease by changing from one position to another. Though feeling very ill she asked to be told all that was going on, and was concerned on hearing that another member, Mr. Sturdy, had also been taken ill with influenza; when it was suggested that Mr. Mead should bring him to be nursed at Headquarters, she was much pleased and insisted on his being sent for at once.
H. P. B. spent a most suffering day, and when Dr. Mennell came early in the evening he was distressed to find the fever was still very high ; he changed the medicine, giving a preparation of salycene, it being absolutely necessary to reduce the temperature, and decided to call again about midnight to see the result; he left strict orders that before each dose the temperature should be carefully taken, for in the event of a sudden fall taking place it would have been dangerous to continue the medicine. Before he came again that night a third dose fell due, but owing to the decrease in H. P. B.'s temperature, I felt justified in not giving it, especially as the discomforts incidental to the drug were beginning to cause her much uneasiness. And it was a relief, when Dr. Mennell came, to find the right course had been taken, for he was satisfied with her condition. She passed a fairly quiet night, and on Tuesday morning the fever had almost gone; that day and the following night all seemed going on well, for though the weakness was very distressing, no complications had as yet appeared, and she was able to take plenty of nourishment. Towards the end of Thursday the 30th, H. P. B. began to suffer very much from her throat, and as the hours went by she had increasing difficulty in swallowing; her cough became very troublesome and her breathing very laboured. On Friday morning she was no better, and when Dr. Mennell arrived he found a quinsy had formed in the right side of the throat; hot poultices were applied and some relief was gained. During the evening the quinsy broke, and when Dr. Mennell came again he was comparatively satisfied with H. P. B.'s condition.
The improvement, however, was not of long duration; a bad night followed, and in the morning it became apparent there was a second formation in the throat. This proved to be an abscess on the bronchial tube. A wretched day and night succeeded and the morning of Sunday, May 3rd, found H. P. B. very ill indeed, for the pain of swallowing made it very difficult for her to take the necessary amount of nourishment, and her weakness increased in consequence. Monday and Tuesday passed in much the same manner; the abscess disappeared, but the bronchial tubes being much affected, the difficulty in breathing still continued, and almost constant fanning had to be kept up to relieve the dreadful oppression from which she was suffering. How bravely she struggled against her illness only those who were with her can realise. On Wednesday, the 6th May, she partially dressed and walked into the sitting-room, remained there for her luncheon, resting for some time on the sofa; in the evening Dr. Mennell found her going on fairly well, all fever had entirely left her, but the great weakness and the difficulty in breathing caused him considerable anxiety. Several times H.P.B. told Dr. Mennell she felt she was dying, and that she could not keep up the struggle much longer; but he, knowing the illnesses she had previously conquered, did not give up hope; indeed, I may say this feeling was shared throughout the house, for though we realized how seriously ill H.P.B. was, we could not believe she would leave us.
One bad symptom was that from the first days of her illness, H. P. B. lost all desire for smoking her cigarettes, and though, when the fever left her, she tried to begin again it gave her no pleasure and she finally threw up the attempt. It had always been her custom to roll a few cigarettes for Dr. Mennell when he called, and all through her illness she never failed to have some ready; sometimes in the course of the morning, with many a pause, she would succeed in rolling one or two, and later when she became too weak to roll the cigarettes herself either Mr. Mead or Mr. Wright was called for that purpose. That Wednesday night was the turning point in her illness; about midnight a change for the worse took place and for an hour or two it seemed as if H.P.B. must go; she had no perceptible pulse, and it seemed almost impossible for her to get breath.
After a time the attack passed off; she became a little easier, and for the time the danger passed. Very early on Thursday morning Mr. Wright went for Dr. Mennell, who returned with him and remained for some time to watch the effect of the medicine he gave - during the day H.P.B. rallied and about three in the afternoon dressed, and with very little assistance walked into the sitting room; when there she asked for her large armchair to be brought her and while it was being placed in its old position near her writing table, she stood merely leaning slightly against the table. The chair was turned facing into the room and when H.P.B. was sitting in it she had her card table with the cards drawn in front of her, and she tried to "make a patience" ; notwithstanding all these brave efforts it was quite apparent that she was suffering intensely, and that nothing but her powerful will could have sustained her in the struggle; the intense difficulty in breathing had brought a strained pathetic expression into H.P.B.'s dear face most pitiful to see, and it seemed to show even more when she attempted any return to her old habits. Dr. Mennell came shortly after 5 o'clock and was much surprised to find her sitting up, and he congratulated her and praised her courage; she said, "I do my best, Doctor" ; her voice was hardly above a whisper and the effort to speak was exhausting, as her breath was very short, but she was less deaf and liked to hear conversation. She handed Dr. Mennell a cigarette she had managed with difficulty to prepare for him; it was the last she ever made. After a little time Dr. Mennell asked H.P.B. if she would mind seeing his partner Dr. Miller, and allowing him to listen to her chest ; she consented, he came in at once, and the examination took place; a consultation was held, and then Dr. Mennell called Mrs. Oakley and myself to hear Dr. Miller's opinion. He considered H.P.B.'s condition very serious, owing to the bronchitis from which she was suffering and her extreme weakness; he advised a tablespoonful of brandy every two hours, the quantity to be increased if necessary. This change in the treatment was at once made, and it seemed to produce a good effect. Shortly after Dr. Mennell left H.P.B. returned to her bedroom and her chair was once again placed beside her bed; she was very tired, but asked as usual after the other invalids, particularly wishing to know if there was a good Lodge Meeting. The night that followed, her last with us, was a very suffering one; owing to the increased difficulty in breathing H.P.B. could not rest in any position; every remedy was tried without avail, and finally she was obliged to remain seated in her chair propped with pillows.
The cough almost ceased, owing to her great exhaustion, though she had taken both medicine and stimulant with regularity. About H.P.B. seemed easier, and her pulse was fairly strong, and from that time until I left her at all went quietly and well. My sister then took my place, while I went for a few hours' rest, leaving word for Dr. Mennell to give me his opinion of H.P.B. when he called. This he did shortly after nine, and his report was satisfactory; the stimulant was having a good effect and the pulse stronger; he saw no cause for immediate anxiety, advised me to rest a few hours, and told my sister she could go to her business. About 11.30 I was aroused by Mr. Wright, who told me to come at once as H.P.B. had changed for the worse, and the nurse did not think she could live many hours; directly I entered her room I realised the critical condition she was in. She was sitting in her chair and I knelt in front of her and asked her to try and take the stimulant; though too weak to hold the glass herself she allowed me to hold it to her lips, and she managed to swallow the contents; but after that we could only give a little nourishment in a spoon. 'The nurse said H.P.B. might linger some hours, but suddenly there was a further change, and when I tried to moisten her lips I saw the dear eyes were already becoming dim, though she retained full consciousness to the last. In life H.P.B. had a habit of moving one foot when she was thinking intently, and she continued that movement almost to the moment she ceased to breathe. When all hope was over the nurse left the room, leaving C. F. Wright, W. R. Old and myself with our beloved H.P.B.; the two former knelt in front, each holding one of her hands, and I at her side with one arm round her supported her head; thus we remained motionless for many minutes, and so quietly did H.P.B. pass away that we hardly knew the second she ceased to breathe; a great sense of peace filled the room, and we knelt quietly there until, first my sister, then the Countess arrived. I had telegraphed to them and Dr. Mennell - when the nurse said the end was near, but they were not in time to see H.P.B. before she left us. No time was lost in vain regrets, we all tried to think and to do what she would have wished under the circumstances, and we could only be thankful she was released from her suffering. The one ray of light in the darkness of our loss seems to be, that had there not been the instruments in the Society to carry on the work she would not have left us. She has bequeathed to us all as legacy the care of the Society she founded, the service of the cause to which her life was given, and the depth of our love and our loyalty will be measured by the strenuousness of our work.
LAURA M COOPER
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