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.