A strange inscription on the gravestone of one of the graves at West Cemetery in Amherst marks the place where Emily Dickinson was buried. The stone contains the details of Dickinson, such as date of birth and death, and also the words “Called Back.” Who was responsible for adding these words and why?
The words “Called Back” seem to be a sinister reminder of the way people saw the death of Dickinson on May 15, 1886. These words were also the contents of her very last letter. This letter was addressed to Louise and Frances Norcross, two of her cousins.
“Dear Cousins, Called Back. Emily.”
By the time she wrote this last letter, she was severely ill. According to her death certificate, she died of Bright’s disease. This is a classification for a variety of kidney diseases. Would she have died in more recent years, the cause of her death would be listed as glomerulonephritis or nephritis? Read more about this condition using this link.
Recent studies indicate that Dickinson was battling severe primary hypertension (high blood pressure) and this could be related or worsened by Bright’s disease. It isn’t clear if this lead to heart failure or that her death was caused by a brain haemorrhage.
There is still very much to do about the death of Dickinson. Some claim she died of epilepsy or related symptoms. There is no real scientific evidence to support these theories.
Her last written words or probably her last written words to others were “Called Back.” Could this be a reference to the popular novel written by Hugh Conway. This is possible because Dickinson wrote about this book in 1885:
“A haunting story… greatly impressive to me.”
There is one slight problem. The gravestone that is still at the cemetery in Amherst isn’t the original one. The original stone was replaced by Martha Dickinson Bianchi, one of Dickinson’s nieces. At first, only the initials E.E.D. were inscribed on this stone. By order of her niece, the first name, last name, date of birth, the words “Called Back” and the date of birth were added.
The reason to change the gravestone is unclear. Her niece most likely wanted people to see that this wasn’t just any gravestone. It should be clear that this was the gravestone of no other than Emily Dickinson. Just like many things that are related to Emily Dickinson, including some of her literary work, it comes down to guessing.