The Duchess of Cannizzaro was Eugene’s adoptive mother in Palermo. She was generous to the poor, and Eugene helped her to distribute alms to the needy.
I experienced it indeed at her death [which took place May 1, 1802] when everyone could judge that my grief was incomparably more painful and deeply felt than that of her own sons. The Princess, whom I so rightly called my mother, was suddenly taken from us. The blow was cruel and the wound deep. I felt it for a long time; it even made me ill. They say that when I saw her lifeless body, I prostrated myself at the foot of her bed issuing a number of times this wrenching cry: “I have lost my mother! I have lost my mother!”
Diary of the Exile in Italy, EO XVI
It was the young Eugene’s first close encounter with the death of someone he was emotionally attached to. From it he would learn to be understanding of death and grief in the future. His reaction was intense and we will see how deeply the death of loved ones would affect him in the future.
Hubenig and Motte comment: “Perhaps it is a sign of how Eugene’s spiritual life had waned that he did not turn to prayer or spiritual reading to find solace in his suffering. Instead, he buried himself in a long meditative essay in blank verse entitled Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality by an obscure English poet, Edward Young (1683-1765). The work abounds in macabre imagery and indeed briefly started a so-called “graveyard school” of poetry in England. Eugene describes the author and his poem as follows:
A wonderful man and, what is more important, the finest and most sympathetic friend I could possibly have at this moment. We both share the same feelings… His writing is sublime and makes for reflective and satisfying reading.
…Alarmed, Eugene’s father chided him: “You should discard this reading that pleases you so much. In nourishing your grief it serves only to prevent the effect of the remedies the doctors prescribe to relieve your sorrow.” (Living in the Spirit’s Fire, p. 24)
The young man still had a way to go before he could integrate death and grieving into a spiritual vision. In the future his grief would be intense but he would learn to find comfort in the Savior and not in romantic poetry.
“Grief is the price we pay for love.” Queen Elizabeth II