Sunday, December 27, 2015

Presidental Politics and Parental Grief

The White House has often been home to parents who mourn lost children. Their reactions to their loss and their decisions to not run, may or may not have changed the course of history. Historians are still out on this one.

Most recently, when Vice-president Joseph Biden Jr, announced that he was not running for president in 2016, he cited his son, Beau’s death, and his struggle with his grief as the main reason. Biden, it seems, took his time to decide, since it was well known that he wanted to be president one day. But those of us who have lost a child know how emotionally draining it is to even function day to day. And a president’s responsibility for the entire nation is a huge job and can’t be taken lightly.

We often think of a president as someone who is immune from tragic events, but many of our presidents have lost one or more children, particularly in the early part of the 20th century when as many as three in 10 infants died before their first birthdays. I thought you might like to hear of some of these losses.

Probably, one of the most famous presidents who lost a child was John F. Kennedy, whose son Patrick Kennedy, died just 39 hours after birth. He was pre-mature and had complications. 

The same with Christine Reagan, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman’s daughter, who died shortly after her birth in 1947.

Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mamie’s first son, Icky, died of Scarlet Fever at age 3.  From then on, he sent his wife flowers year on his son's birthday. George Bush’s second child, Robin, also died at age 3 from Leukemia.

Another very famous president, Abraham Lincoln, lost the third of his four sons, 11-year-old Willie of Typhoid Fever in 1862. He also lost Edward, his second son at age 3 in 1850. 

William McKinley’s two children, daughters Ida and Katie, died early deaths.

For some presidents, the loss of their child affected them greatly and they suffered setbacks and recover very slowly, if at all. Franklin Pierce witnessed the violent death of his third and only surviving son, Benny, in a train accident two weeks before his inauguration and did not do well afterwards. 

Nor did Calvin Coolidge, whose second son, 16 year old Calvin Jr., died in 1924 of a staph infection acquired after playing tennis without his socks. He did not seek re-election in 1928 because of this death. “The power and the glory of the presidency went with Calvin,” he said. 

Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Quentin, was shot down by a German pilot in 1918. Roosevelt died brokenhearted six months later in 1919.

Many other presidents lost children and one running for president in 2016, Carly Fiorina, lost her 35-year-old stepdaughter, Lori Ann, who died of a drug overdose. She speaks bluntly about her pain, gets it out in the open and doesn’t try to hide her feelings as some do. She and others believe that not hiding their anguish is one of the best ways to deal with their grief.

Most have one thing in common. They recovered and moved on with their lives and experienced what some experts call post-traumatic growth, positive changes after a crisis, including a greater appreciation of life and personal strength. Others suffered depression and other psychiatric conditions and had to seek help.

We all cope differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve a child’s death. It is and should be an individual's choice as to how he/she deals with it.

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