On April 14, 1851, Dora Dickens, the ninth child of Charles Dickens, died unexpectedly. The next morning, Charles wrote to his wife, who was away recuperating from her own illness. Dickens softens the blow, telling his wife not that she had lost her infant child, but that she should be prepared for that possibility:
But I cannot close it without putting the strongest entreaty and injunction upon you to come with perfect composure—to remember what I have often told you, that we never can expect to be exempt, as to our many children, from the afflictions of other parents—and that if—if—when you come, I should even have to say to you “Our little baby is dead”, you are to do your duty to the rest, and to shew yourself worthy of the great trust you hold in them.
There’s a few interesting things to note here. First, Dickens reminds his wife that “we can never expect to be exempt, as to our many children, from the afflictions of other parents”. Early, incurable death was simply a large part of life in Dickens’ day. He was thankful that it had not visited upon his other children.
Second, it’s almost impossible to imagine the isolation that existed just a few generations ago. Imagine traveling what amounts to a two or three hour’s drive away, and legitimately not knowing whether your pre-departure conversation would be the last time you spoke to a loved one. One nasty infection, and your wife or child might be dead before the post could arrive. Car accidents and heart attacks keep this possibility alive today, but the odds of being incapable of communicating with those you’d like to are remote.
So, thanks Agostino Bassi, John Snow, and those who came after. Thanks Samuel Morse, Alexander Graham Bell, and everyone who stood on their shoulders.