Five events JFK’s death may have made us miss

I was not really expecting to follow up on my previous ‘post’ but the response from people has been both warm and significant – warm in personal terms concerning my own loss of Tricia and significant in recollection terms about remembering where we all were when JFK was shot. It seems this topic has touched a set of responsive nerves.

In my post, I made a point of suggesting “anyone my age and over…” would recollect where they were on 22nd November 1963. It seems I may have been wrong… the list of comments includes several from people apparently younger than me too. For example, “Jean” was only 9 yrs old and returning from brownies to be met by her mother in tears. The youngest so far seems to have been “Vicki” who was at her “day care provider`s house” which is where she also watched the funeral . Clearly, she was affected by the adult trauma associated with the event, which must have made the initial impact, but she also notes that she identified with the Kennedy children who were of a similar age to herself. She does say it was only some years later that she realized the significance of these memories – but the fact of the clarity of the memories is of significance itself.

Talking of the Kennedy children, I would make an additional wager that most people would also recall the fine salute young John junior gave at his father`s funeral. It was John junior`s third birthday. (Picture by Dan Farrell/New York Daily News) Sadly John F Kennedy junior, in the words of his uncle Ted Kennedy, did not live ‘… to comb gray hair’, dying with his wife and sister in law when the light aircraft he was piloting crashed into the ocean.,_Jr._plane_crash

kennedy John Jnr salute

I made reference the other day to the funeral we attended last Sunday here in Brazil – very different to the Kennedy state funeral of course. I remember a comment my father used to make about funerals – he said that unless you were a public figure – “… if you wanted a lot of people at your funeral you would have to die young.” Sadly, Tricia`s funeral supported his thesis, there were a lot of people there and, these days, just past 60 does not count as old for most purposes (even bus passes are apparently not available until you are at least 63 since they started messing about with work retirement ages!)

The warmth and kindness of various responses on Facebook from family and friends to my post, set my mind thinking about one of the “purposes” of a funeral – the comforting of the bereaved. Rationally I have always known about this and accepted it as a given but, even with parental funerals, it had perhaps been more ‘intellectually present’ than ‘emotionally inherent’ .

Perhaps you can tell from the quotation marks I am having difficulty just finding the exactly correct words (and I am not entirely sure that I have?). I do not intend to imply that the emotional content was ever lacking in any way – far from it, I have always found funerals VERY emotional and, whenever I have been one of the immediately bereaved, I have, indeed, been comforted by all the hugs and words and cards and so on.

But, for me, there was something different about Tricia`s funeral. Whether it was the fact of me being the key focus for the comforting, or whether it was the suddenness of her death, or whether it was the sheer scale of my loss, seen from ‘inside’, as it were. But the comforting ‘process’ (more quotation marks, am I being too analytical here?) was, for me, five years ago, somehow on a different scale from any other funeral I have attended.

It was not just ‘comforting’ (and, by the way, I am very conscious that it was a two-way thing – each hug was both a giving and a receiving entity) it was about the recognition of the funeral and the post-funeral ‘do’ as a celebration of a life as well as the marking of a death. In the end, as I look back now and also as I felt at the time, I was conscious of a sense, almost, of a ‘euphoria of comfort’.

I was struck, too, by the presence of laughter and smiles at the post-funeral event. And I am sure-positive that this was not unique to Tricia`s funeral, it is something I have noticed at a lot of funerals, as family and friends gather and share memories. It is part of the celebration of life and lives and, to use Rose Kennedy`s words again, it is the “birds singing after a storm”, an affirmation of the continuance of life in the sunlight in the face of death.

Five Events missed…

One of the things that has struck me in the last few days is the extent to which bigger things mask smaller things. It may seem sort of obvious as one says it but JFK`s death happened on the same day as the death of CSLewis for example (the author of the Narnia Chronicles) and, indeed, the 50th anniversary of JFK`s passing is also masking the passing of CSLewis 50 years ago. There is an interesting article in the Independent which highlights this and the impact it had upon his adoptive son and the article also points out the death of Aldous Huxley, again on the same day. Each of these deaths would normally have made their own headlines, I am sure, but the bigger thing masked the smaller things in terms of the public consciousness – but NOT, of course, in the life of the young Douglas Gresham who lost his friend and adoptive father.

It turns out also that Emil Zatopek died on 22nd November in the year 2000 at the age of 78. For people my age at least Zatopek was a memorable name as a long distance runner and won three gold medals in the 1952 Olympics in the 5000 metres, 10000 metres, and the marathon becoming a household name at the time. I can recall the slightly jingoistic sense of British runners being outrun by this ‘foreigner’ as presented by commentators at the time.

Other events we may have missed noting on this day in history include the fact that the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (do you remember him from your school geography lessons?) apparently ‘rounded the Cape of Good Hope’ on this day in 1497. No doubt this may be a cause for celebration but for the fact that he and his shipful of crew spent much of the next year causing various sorts of trouble, the worst of which was setting on fire a ship containing many pilgrims returning from Mecca, killing hundreds, including women and children. Isn’t it terrible that history contains such a lot of foul deeds committed by people who may otherwise have earned our respect for their good deeds?

OK, I have now ‘rambled’ quite long enough on this subject… but if, when you read this, you think of other situations where the bigger event masks a smaller event – just pop a comment here, below, for us to think about.


About Keith Melton - Green Lib Dem

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Nottinghamshire; spent six years in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536. Active member of the Green Liberal Democrats - (pressure group in Liberal Democrats) - was Founding Chair of GLD in 1988
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