How the "Little Hospice Blue Book" Got Its Name

In the early 1980s I was in an antique/junk kind of shop and saw an old beat up picture frame with a faded poem written in it. Gone From My Sight was the poem’s name. I smiled when I read the poem, thought "how beautiful," and bought the framed poem. 

Fast forward to 1985. As a hospice nurse I wrote a booklet to guide the families I worked with in understanding the signs of approaching death. I wanted the booklet to be short, direct, and gentle. Gentle because what was inside was going to be hard to understand, was going to hurt to accept. 

I added the old framed poem I had on my family room wall to the end of the booklet.  That's when I decided my booklet's title would be, Gone From My Sight. In the frame the author of the poem was listed as Anonymous so I put anonymous as the author.

Later in the ‘80s, Ann Landers, a syndicated newspaper advice columnist, wrote an article about the poem and credited authorship to Henry Van Dyke. Trusting her editor's research, I followed suit. In the next printing of the booklet Gone From My Sight Henry Van Dyke was listed as the author.

During these many years I’ve gotten letters from various people claiming to have written the poem or to know who wrote it. A daughter claimed her mother wrote it, a young woman said her boyfriend wrote it for her, a newspaper article claimed a pilot wrote it as he flew his plane, and, most recently, a woman said Luther F Beecher wrote it and I should give him credit.

SO—— here is what I know now: Even though many people (besides us) are actively trying to discover who wrote this poem, the authorship remains elusive and the claims to it are numerous.  

The idea of a ship sailing, disappearing from view to be seen by others, has been used for 125 years as a 19th century funeral sermon by many clergy conducting funerals. Each Clergy added their own spin but the essence stayed the same.

The earliest known record (operative word record, meaning a name included after the poem) is attributed to Luther F. Beecher but the poem was being used long before his name was attached to it. It is also often attributed to Henry Van Dyke though it's not on his website, Bishop Charles Henry Brent, as well as to Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables. Suffice to say the list of possible authors is both impressive and extensive. 

Because the recorded poem considerably predates any authorship, in addition to the contested authorship after, in the next printing of Gone From My Sight, on the poem's page we will replace Henry Van Dyke with "A 19th Century Funeral Sermon."

That’s the story of how the poem Gone From My Sight got into the back pages of a booklet about the signs of approaching death, another place the beloved poem endures as a gentle idea to support us in our loss.

Something More about... How the "Little Hospice Blue Book" Got Its Name

When agencies put GONE FROM MY SIGHT and THE ELEVENTH HOUR in with their care plan and document reading sections with families, medicare regulations are met and satisfaction surveys are higher. On those occasions when families call in to report that "Mom's not eating" or "Dad's feet have a blue tint" we tell them to turn to the corresponding page in the booklet together and fear is reduced. As I always say, "knowledge reduces fear" and families need as much education as we can offer.

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I received a copy of this poem in the training materials for the death midwife/doula program I attended. I immediately resonated with it and felt that this was the truth about dying.
I read this poem on Sept 1, 2022, at my mom’s memorial service in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and it brought tears, smiles, relief, insight, understanding and so much hope and love. I’ve had to share it with several of the friends and family in attendance.
This poem held me as I tended to my mom in her last weeks and sat at the crematorium as I held space for release and wish her Godspeed…as she left my sight.

BK Books replied:
Marinda, thank you for sharing. The poem does bring comfort. Blessings! Barbara

David Adams

After retiring in the early 1990’s, my mother was a dedicated hospice volunteer for more than 20 years providing caregiver respite and love to so many patients and their families. One day, as I was in my early twenties, Mother handed me a printout entitled “Preparing For The Death Of A Loved One” provided by the Neighborhood Visiting Nurse Association of West Chester, PA and published in The American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care along with an early copy of your “little blue book.” Mother had paper clipped a hand-written note on the material that simply read, “Dave, For your information. Put with your records. Love, Mom” As the years went by and my parents started aging with various complications, I would occasionally pull out the material and read over it, thinking back at how I initially thought it “quite silly” and a bit morbid for Mother to have given it to me at such an early age. Fast forward to May of this year, Mother was discharged from the hospital to return home under the same Hospice care that she had so faithfully provided for many years prior. Remaining bedside with her 24-7 for the last 2 weeks of her life, I received tremendous comfort being able to refer to this information (along with updated copies of all of Ms. Karne’s booklets/book that I had ordered months prior). In the midst of my grief, simply knowing what was happening, why it was happening, and given pointers of things to do, say, and even not to do – truly made for a beautiful time together. Mother’s “gift” of this information more than 35 years ago was one of the greatest gifts she ever gave to me. Thank you, Mother….and thank you to Ms. Karnes for your gift to so many others!
BK Books replied:
Dave, How thoughtful and wise of your mom to give you her notes, her guide to help you when the time came. Wouldn’t it be helpful and comforting if all of us supported our children with knowledge of end of life. Your mother being a hospice volunteer all those years, think of the gifts she has given so many. I would have liked to meet her. She sounds like a special lady. Thank you for sharing her with me. Blessings! Barbara

Shelly Cole

Hi Barbara, I know this may sound weird, but when I was in hospice October 2016 – January 2017 they gave me a copy of your little blue book. I was supposed to share it with my family, but never did. I didn’t want them to read it and constantly watch me to see if my health was following your writings. Oddly enough, I read that book multiple times a day for that 3 months. As I read it and recognized some of the things you wrote in the book, I began to fight them. I truly believe that that booklet helped save my life! I was VERY grateful for it!
BK Books replied:
Hi Shelly, Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I know people think *Gone From My Sight *is guidance for people with a loved one experiencing approaching death but I have many stories of people themselves finding support. Blessings to you. Barbara

Janet Miller

I first herd this poem in Pocatello, Idaho at the sad funeral of a co-worker named Blackie Conlin, and it brought me to tears, as it has ever since. It is such a comforting story, and I just love it. (Even tho it makes me cry….STILL!!)

Janet Miller

I first herd this poem in Pocatello, Idaho at the sad funeral of a co-worker named Blackie Conlin, and it brought me to tears, as it has ever since. It is such a comforting story, and I just love it. (Even tho it makes me cry….STILL!!)

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