Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years: 1876-1891 (vol. 3)


The Last Week of His Life

Very shortly after his death, Ellen White recounted their experience through the last week of his life, beginning with Sabbath, July 30. This was three days after the carriage trip home from Charlotte: 3BIO 168.4

Sabbath morning, as usual, we walked to the grove together, and my husband prayed most fervently three times. He seemed reluctant to cease pleading with God for special guidance and blessing. His prayers were heard, and peace and light came to our hearts. My husband praised the Lord, and said, “Now I give it all up to Jesus. I feel a sweet, heavenly peace, an assurance that the Lord will show us our duty; for we desire to do His will.” 3BIO 169.1

He accompanied me to the Tabernacle, and opened the services with singing and prayer. It was the last time he was ever to stand by my side in the pulpit. On Sunday he thought he would be able to attend the Eastern camp meetings, and said the Lord could give him strength, if it was his duty to go. 3BIO 169.2

Monday he had a severe chill. Tuesday he did not rally as expected, but we thought the disease an attack of fever and ague [malaria], and supposed that it would soon yield to treatment. 3BIO 169.3

Tuesday night I was attacked with chills, and was very sick, being unable to sit up on the following day. 3BIO 169.4

Dr. Kellogg then proposed that we both be removed to the Sanitarium, where we could enjoy better facilities for treatment. A mattress was placed in a hack, my husband and myself were laid side by side, for the last time, and thus taken to the Sanitarium. 3BIO 169.5

On Friday my symptoms were more favorable. The doctor then informed me that my husband was inclined to sleep, and that danger was apprehended. I was immediately taken to his room, and as soon as I looked upon his countenance I knew that he was dying. 3BIO 169.6

I tried to arouse him. He understood all that was said to him, and responded to all questions that could be answered by Yes or No, but seemed unable to say more. 3BIO 169.7

When I told him I thought he was dying, he manifested no surprise. I asked if Jesus was precious to him. He said, “Yes, oh, yes.” 3BIO 169.8

“Have you no desire to live?” I inquired. He answered, “No.” 3BIO 169.9

We then knelt by his bedside, and I prayed for my husband in that solemn hour. A peaceful expression rested upon his countenance. I said to him, “Jesus loves you. The everlasting arms are beneath you.” He responded, “Yes, yes.” 3BIO 170.1

I wished to be certain that he recognized us, and I asked him to tell who we were. He said, “You are Ellen. You”—looking at our elder son—“are Edson. I know you all.” 3BIO 170.2

Brother Smith and other brethren then prayed around his bedside, and retired to spend much of the night in prayer. My husband said he felt no pain; but he was evidently failing fast. Dr. Kellogg and his helpers did all that was in their power to hold him back from death. He slowly revived, but continued very weak. I remained with him through the night. 3BIO 170.3

The next morning he took some nourishment, and seemed slightly to revive. About noon he had a chill, which left him unconscious, and he quietly breathed his life away, without a struggle or a groan. I was mercifully spared the anguish of seeing my husband in agony battling with death. The scene was as pleasant as it was possible for a deathbed to be.—Manuscript 6, 1881 (see also In Memoriam, pp. 52-54). 3BIO 170.4

Dr. J. H. Kellogg, who attended James White through this week, gave an account of the case in the Review: 3BIO 170.5

I first learned of the illness of Brother White about 4:00 P.M., Tuesday, August 2, when I received a message from him requesting me to visit him at his residence, which I immediately did. I found him suffering with a very high fever, the pulse being 112, and the temperature 103 3/4 degrees F. I learned that about 10:00 A.M. of the same day he had suffered with a very severe congestive chill. 3BIO 170.6

At this time his head was greatly congested, and he complained of severe pain in the spine, extending into the lower limbs. He seemed to be greatly prostrated, and was very restless. Treatment to relieve the fever and pain was immediately ordered, and administered by a bath attendant from the Sanitarium. After a short time copious perspiration appeared, and he was greatly relieved. 3BIO 170.7

At 8:00 P.M. I saw him again, and found his pulse diminished to 96, and his temperature to 101 degrees F. At 11:30 P.M. his fever had entirely subsided.—Ibid., August 9, 1881 3BIO 170.8

The case seemed to follow the rather familiar course of malarial fever, with elevated temperature in the afternoons. On Wednesday evening he was taken to the Sanitarium for treatment, accompanied by his wife. Kellogg picks up the account: 3BIO 171.1

About noon on Thursday he began to show symptoms of fever again.... The pulse was rather weak, however, and in the evening, after the fever had subsided, became for a short time very rapid. He slept well through the night, however, and in the morning stated that he felt much better, though weak. He ate a light breakfast with relish, and expressed himself as feeling very comfortable and wholly free from pain during the forenoon, but took no dinner.—Ibid. 3BIO 171.2

There was some fever on Friday afternoon, and he was inclined to doze much of the time. Dr. Kellogg called in as a consultant a Dr. Millspaugh, one of Battle Creek's leading physicians. He was in full agreement with the diagnosis and favored the treatment administered. 3BIO 171.3

Friday evening some friends called, but talked only a little, as James White was inclined to sleep. His pulse was slightly irregular. Dr. Kellogg administered “strong stimulants,” and Ellen White and a number of special friends were advised that his condition was critical. Kellogg continued: 3BIO 171.4

The grave symptoms grew rapidly worse for an hour, notwithstanding the most vigorous efforts which could be made by the use of stimulating and restorative means of every sort, which were ready at hand. The pulse became exceedingly rapid, reaching 160, and was very feeble and extremely irregular. The respiration was short and labored. The pupils were dilated almost to the extreme limit. Still the body was warm, and there was no evidence of chilliness, but the tendency to collapse from failure of the heart seemed irresistible. Consciousness was not entirely suspended, as he was able to answer any brief question intelligently.—Ibid. 3BIO 171.5

In the early-morning hours of Sabbath he improved slightly. After some sleep he took a little fluid nourishment and improved for several hours. Thus it was till a little past the noon hour. Dr. Kellogg reported on the events of the afternoon: 3BIO 171.6

About 1:00 P.M. his pulse suddenly began to increase in frequency, and soon became very feeble and irregular. Within thirty minutes he became unconscious, and his pulse rapidly rose to 176, and his respiration to 60 per minute. His temperature was 99 degrees F., one-half degree above the normal temperature. The same measures used with the previous attack were again employed, but without effect, and he remained in the condition described until he breathed his last, just after 5:00 P.M.... 3BIO 172.1

The case presented some strange and very remarkable features, which are only explicable upon the supposition that the severe shocks of apoplexy which he had suffered during the later portion of his life had so seriously impaired certain portions of the brain as to render him unusually susceptible to the malarious poison to which he had been exposed a short time before his death.—Ibid. 3BIO 172.2

We return to Ellen White's account of the experience: 3BIO 172.3

At times I felt that I could not have my husband die. But these words seemed to be impressed on my mind: “Be still, and know that I am God.” ...I keenly feel my loss, but I dare not give myself up to useless grief. This would not bring back my husband. And I am not so selfish as to wish, if I could, to bring him from his peaceful slumber to engage again in the battles of life. Like a tired warrior, he has lain down to sleep. I will look with pleasure upon his resting place. The best way in which I and my children can honor the memory of him who has fallen is to take the work where he left it, and in the strength of Jesus carry it forward to completion.—Manuscript 6, 1881 (see also In Memoriam, pp. 54, 55).

That Sabbath afternoon the reality of the situation fully struck Ellen White. Of this she wrote: 3BIO 172.4

The shock of my husband's death—so sudden, so unexpected—fell upon me with crushing weight. In my feeble condition I had summoned strength to remain at his bedside to the last; but when I saw his eyes closed in death, exhausted nature gave way, and I was completely prostrated. For some time I seemed balancing between life and death. The vital flame burned so low that a breath might extinguish it. At night my pulse would grow feeble, and my breathing fainter and fainter till it seemed about to cease. Only by the blessing of God and the unremitting care and watchfulness of physician and attendants was my life preserved.—Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 252. 3BIO 172.5

Plans for the funeral called for some delay, for W. C. White and his wife, Mary, were across the continent, almost a week's travel time away. James's brother John, for many years a presiding elder of the Methodist Conference in Ohio, was closer, but might need a little time to arrange to come. Another brother, Samuel, a Baptist minister in Massachusetts, was summoned, but was too feeble to come. A sister, Mary Chase, lived with the Whites in Battle Creek. 3BIO 173.1

The funeral was set for Sabbath afternoon, just a week after James's death. Through the week Ellen White's health and strength dipped to an all-time low. John White, coming on Friday and finding her confined to her bed, said: 3BIO 173.2

Ellen, I am deeply sorry to see you so feeble. A trying ordeal is before you in the funeral services of the morrow. God help you, my dear sister, God help you on this occasion. 3BIO 173.3

Said I, Brother John, you do not know me. The more trying the situation, the more fortitude I possess. I shall give way to no outbursts of grief if my heart break. I serve God not impulsively but intelligently. I have a Saviour who will be to me a very present help in time of trouble. I am a Christian. I know in whom I have believed. He expects from me implicit, unwavering submission. 3BIO 173.4

Undue grief is displeasing to God. I take up my appointed cross and will follow the Lord fully. I will not give myself to abandonment of grief. I will not yield to a morbid and melancholy state of feeling. I will not complain or murmur at the providence of God. Jesus is my Saviour. He lives. He will never leave me or forsake me.—Letter 9, 1881. 3BIO 173.5