Friday, August 24, 2012
A President's Loss: 47 Years Later
During World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower served as Allied Supreme Commander, in charge of the North African campaigns and the D-Day invasion. After the war, Eisenhower went on to become the 34th President of the United States. Throughout his military and political career, Eisenhower commanded millions of lives and billions of dollars. And yet nothing during any of those years compared to the grief he and his wife experienced with the death of his first son, "Icky."
In a 1967 autobiography, Eisenhower recounts what he considers, "the greatest disaster and disappointment" of his life. It was not any military loss or political mistake; it was the unexpected and untimely death of his oldest son. In 1920, Eisenhower's three-year old son, "Icky," contracted scarlet fever and died suddenly. Forty-seven years later, Eisenhower writes, "Today when I think of it, even now as I write it, the keenness of our loss comes back to me as fresh and as terrible as it was in that long dark day soon after Christmas, 1920....no matter what activities and preoccupations there were, we could never forget the death of the boy." At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, p.181-182.
The more fellow grieving parents I meet, the more I come to believe the basic truth that the grief felt by parents at the death of their children will never go away. No matter who we are now, or what our lives will become in the future, grieving parents are never the same. Even if we wanted to "go back to normal" (an altogether different question), there is no way that, in burying your son or daughter, our lives could ever be the same. As many fellow grieving parents have told us, the death of our child is, in some way, the death of our "old life," and we must begin another.