Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Good Grief

on November 22, 2013

Picture received from Mrs. Kennedy in 1963 – sorry about the flash

On this, the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, a jumble of thoughts is running through my mind.

I had a very happy childhood. In fact, I once accused my mother of ruining my writing by making me too happy. The death of a President was one of the worst moments in my young life.

We had campaigned for JFK as a family. I remember his plane making a sort of whistle stop at the Des Moines airport. My dad lifted me so I could see, and I was a chunky little kid. I was most impressed with all the red hair, since I was a redhead.


Letter from Nancy Tuckerman, Mrs. Kennedy’s secretary

In fifth grade, my class regularly watched an educational (social studies) program on television after Friday lunch, so we were lined up in the hallway until the sixth grade finished their class. A rumor started at the front of the line. The teacher had been flipping channel s after their program finished and came across a news report. The President had been shot. Of course, none of us believed it at first. The sixth graders were pulling our legs. Less than five minutes later, we were in the auditorium with the sixth grade, watching in disbelief as Walter Cronkite tried to get more information. Soon, the entire school was in the auditorium. Teachers and everyone cried.

At age 10, I wrote a letter of condolence to Mrs. Kennedy and received a letter and photo from her secretary. A dear friend of the family, who has since died also, made a beautiful frame for that photo. I remember JFK’s funeral like it was yesterday.

That experience did a lot to form my outlook on life, though much of it is couched in flashes of memory and very strong emotions.


Program from 1958 conference with JFK autograph – obtained by my mother-in-law

Fast forward 50 years. My brother Dennis, for reasons I won’t discuss here, is very much involved in making sure that we don’t forget that children grieve and that their feelings deserve at least as much attention as do those of the adults around them. The trick is that children grieve differently from adults. The disbelief or bargaining may last longer for a child. In some ways, children’s emotions are deeper and more complex.

As a writer, I’m grateful to have these forceful memories to draw on when writing for children, though I sometimes need a reminder to think back on those times. It doesn’t have to be as big as an assassination, either. Even the death of a pet can be traumatic. Just want to make sure I recognize the grief.



One response to “Good Grief

  1. Thank you for sharing your memories and reminding us of the multi-faceted emotional lives of children.

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