Mary Russell’s War (ten): Notes from Dr Ginsberg

[On two pieces of lined paper, pinned to the pages of Mary Russell’s wartime journal.]

October 7, 1914

Late Saturday night I received a telephone call from Mrs Long, housekeeper to my friend Judith Russell, to say that there had been an accident. I could not understand her at first, but clearly it was something terrible because the poor woman was weeping, and her English had all but left her. After a time, her husband Micah (Judith’s gardener) came onto the line instead, and told me what had happened.

The shock of grief is a physical thing, a blow to every cell of the body at once. Three-fourths of a family dear to me, gone—and the life of the surviving member uncertain. I have cancelled my appointments for the week, and since Sunday, I have been at the side of young Mary’s hospital bed, that when—when!—she wakes she may see a known face, instead of strangers.

She is terribly injured. Her doctors cannot say how much internal bleeding there is, but what skin remains uncovered by gauze is either scraped or bruised. I watch her breaths go in, and out, and find my own breathing urging her on.

* *

Dearest Mary, I am so very, very sorry. I have known your mother for seventeen years, since she first came to San Francisco. She was my oldest friend, and my closest, and I cannot even begin to picture what life is going to be without her.

Your father too I liked immensely, and admired unreservedly. A strong man, good to his bones, and utterly devoted to his wife and children.

And your brother—but no, I cannot even think of that brilliant life cut short.

My dear child, you have family, you have friends. It may not feel like it at first, when you wake, or indeed for a long time. But there are many of us who love you, both for the family taken from us, and for you in yourself. I will be there for as much and as long as you need me. Anything I can do to lighten your burden even the faintest scrap, you need only ask.

But for now, please, dear child, do something for me: just keep breathing.

Your friend,

Leah Ginsberg


  1. Lynn Hirshman on October 7, 2014 at 7:37 am

    Heartbreaking — even when you knew it was coming.

  2. Merrily Taylor on October 7, 2014 at 10:49 am

    This very nearly made me cry, and I was prepared for what was coming. Poor Russell – better days will come, but nothing could really compensate for a loss of this magnitude, or return a lost childhood. At least she had Holmes, Mrs. Hudson and others to help her begin healing…

  3. K on October 7, 2014 at 11:16 am

    So beautifully written; a true description of shock and loss, and a gorgeous example of how to be intimately supportive without distance or intrusiveness. Thank you.

  4. Laraine on October 7, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    The picture grows stronger and more clear with each installment. Thank you, Laurie, for these glimpses of the back story.

  5. Meredith Taylor on October 8, 2014 at 1:32 am

    We know things will get better, and yet, poor Russell. So sad.

    Dr Ginsberg was such a good friend. Interesting information!

  6. Kelly Windus on October 15, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    I’ve greatly enjoyed Miss Russell’s memoirs, and am now enjoying following her wartime diary. I sympathize with Mr. Holmes in expressing the regret of not having had the pleasure of getting to know Mr. and Mrs. Russell and through the diary get glimpses.

    I am sharing the memoirs now with my husband (who indulges me by letting me read to him). As I do so think of how these characters have enriched me with their dedication to their passions and fierce loyalty to each other. I appreciate their desire for challenges, simple living and their ability to find humor in the everyday goings on even in the midst of their most challenging and exotic cases. I can sympathize with Miss Russell over the desire to avoid mud puddles, an appreciation for good shoes and the frustration of foggy lenses. I feel as though I have befriended these individuals and am better for it. I thank Mrs. King for her work in the sharing of these memoirs.

  7. M Spencer on October 18, 2014 at 7:39 am

    A body blow of terrific proportions — say, a horse kick to the stomach — as I read this, after having been preoccupied with a family member’s illness for two weeks. I knew, from the first novel, you were an outstanding writer and this merely emphasizes that impression. Reading that a character was orphaned is very different from learning how she reached that state.

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