Abigail Van Buren [Dear Abby] researched the poem’s history and concluded in 1998 that Mary Elizabeth Frye, who was living in Baltimore at the time, wrote the poem in 1932.
According to Van Buren’s research, Frye had never written any poetry, but the plight of a German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with Mary and her husband, inspired the poem.
Margaret Schwarzkopf was concerned about her mother, who was ill in Germany, but she had been warned not to return home because of increasing unrest. When her mother died, the heartbroken young woman told Frye that she never had the chance to “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear”.
Frye, according to Van Buren’s research, found herself composing a piece of verse on a brown paper shopping bag. Later she said that the words “just came to her” and expressed what she felt about life and death. - thanks, internet