I was absent from school that day. I forget the reason, but whatever it was, it was unique to me. All my siblings went to school. I was ten years old.
My mother had gone next door to visit with her friend, and the friend's four year old son had come over to watch TV with me. I remember being on the couch, and "Jimmy" was on the floor in front of the TV when the program we were watching was interrupted with a bulletin.
I reacted like any other ten year old would. I got up off the couch and went to change the channel, only to find that every station was airing the bulletin.
In that instant, I remember feeling annoyed, upset almost, because I wanted to watch TV and all the channels weren't working. But before I had a chance to process that information, I was pushed away from the TV. I looked up and saw my mother, her hands over her mouth as she stared at the TV.
It was November 22, 1963.
Welcome, fellow travelers on the grief journey, and a special welcome to anyone who is new to The Grieving Room. We meet every Monday evening. Whether your loss is recent, or many years ago; whether you've lost a person, or a pet; or even if the person you're 'mourning' is still alive, (pre-grief' can be a very lonely and confusing time), you can come to this diary and say whatever you need to say. We can't solve each other's problems, but we can be a sounding board and a place of connection. Unlike a private journal, here you know: your words are read by people who have been through their own hell. There's no need to pretty it up or tone it down. It just is.And November 22, 1963 is just three years after the death of my father.
My memories are very vague about that time. I remember going into my mother's room and standing by the side of the bed as she cried. That's it. Except I remember him being gone.
As we watched the funeral for the president on TV, I knew I was witnessing history. All the pageantry, the crowds of people, everyone crying, even the neighbors who have come over to watch. This was big. This was serious. This was something to remember.
There was nothing to remember about my father's funeral, because I did not attend. None of his children did. We didn't go to the wake. We never went to the cemetery. We were being 'protected' from the horrors of death. We were being shielded from the pain of loss being expressed by so many. After all, children should not have to experience the morbid reality of death. It's enough that they don't have a father anymore.
And that was the gist of it. When you are seven, and your father goes into the hospital in August and doesn't come home, then you don't have a father anymore. And life goes on with him gone.
That Thanksgiving, and for many Thanksgivings after that, my house was packed with relatives. My mother hosted over fifty people every year, so that she wouldn't be alone on the holiday.
That Christmas was the best ever for a kid. To compensate the loss of a parent, we were over-indulged with toys and clothes. That's how I remember it. No sorrow, no pain. Just life going on without a father.
When my mother started 'dating', and brought a man home to meet us, I was fifteen. And I flipped out. And that is a mild way to put it. I had what back then was called a 'nervous breakdown' which involved severe tantrums and self-destructive behavior.
I remember the therapy session that opened my mind to reality. Every statement I made, the therapist answered with, "Why?". And every answer I gave she repeated the question until I shouted at her, screamed it, actually, "Because nobody told me my father was dead!"
My father was dead. Not just gone, but dead gone. Not coming back, ever. Not going to walk through the door and punch that man who smiles at my mother. Not going to rescue me from the taunts of kids who laugh because I didn't have a father.
Oh they meant well, I know. My Aunts and Grandmothers, who told us "He's with the angels." "He's in heaven now, watching over you." "He passed on and is at peace." were busy with their own grief. I guess saying, "Your father has died." would be making it a little more real for them.
And I remember that first Thanksgiving when we didn't have a household of company. Just a few close friends and my favorite Aunt's family. During the week, we had re-lived the assassination again through newspapers and television specials and my mother called everyone and cancelled the big feast.
And then she told us our new Thanksgiving Story.
"Every year, when I watch Mrs. Kennedy go through the funeral of her husband, I remember burying my own Jack. (Yes, my father was called, "Jack") And every year I am reminded of making a terrible mistake that will probably haunt my children forever. I was so wrapped up in my own misery, all I wanted to do was make sure my children wouldn't be feeling the pain I was in- or really, not seeing me in my pain. But, when I saw Jackie clutching the hands of her children, as if holding on to a lifeline, I wish I could go back and do it over."
She cried and we cried and grouped hugged. And we ate turkey and pie and remembered.
So, this year, as I watched just about every special on TV about what happened that day fifty years ago, I remember where I was and what I was doing.
And I remember not remembering my own father's death.