We feel doubly bereft

A lovely bright light went out for us

The following letter is taken from Letters of Note: Grief, a moving collection of correspondence from the pens and typewriters of Audre Lorde, Robert Frost, Nick Cave, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, Kahlil Gibran, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Edith Wharton, and many others. Find out more here.

On 22 November 1963, as an open-top motorcade took him and the First Lady through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated by a sniper situated in a nearby building. The shock was global and profound, and within two months of Kennedy’s death his widow, Jacqueline, had received almost a million letters of condolence from members of the public. This particular letter came from a lady who grieved not just for the loss of the president, but also for the loss of Jacqueline and her two children, who were now, understandably, slipping from public view.

Chicago, Illinois

My dear Mrs. Kennedy:

I just saw your lovely face on television and heard you speak. And all the while, a feeling of great pain overwhelmed me because I know that your public appearances will be all too few and the family we have come to love so dearly will become news we find occasionally in the papers. Yes, we have come to think of all of you as belonging to us. It was so wonderful to feel part of the great excitement our dear president gave us all. And to be part of you, watching the children grow and seeing the grace and beauty both of you brought to our land. Yes, a lovely bright light went out for us, and we share with you and the children and the family the tragic loss that can never become a thing of objectivity. But we have another loss—we have lost you and the children and we miss you very much. We felt that we could watch Caroline and John-John grow, and share with you and our beloved president the joy of family. And now we feel doubly bereft.

I know you have received so many messages very much like this one, but I did want to tell you how lonely we are for the sight of our First Family. The brightness and electric excitement have gone out of the news, for we cannot get used to turning on the television and not seeing that wonderful smile and the brilliant eyes. We could tell when a wry remark was coming and watched for it in delighted anticipation. It isn’t the same anymore. We will back everything he fought for so hard, because of him, but there is no pleasure behind it. I do not mean any disrespect to Mr. Johnson for I know how hard it must be for him to even begin to fill a role that such a brilliant, sparkling man left vacant. But ordinary men seem to be in government now. And government will go back to being ordinary once more.

Please don’t disappear from our view. We want to know how you are faring, how the children are, if you all are well, and above all we want to have you lean back and rest against us, knowing that our love does sustain you and is there for you and the children, dear Mrs. Kennedy. We know how great was your loss because our loss was great too. How we love him; I shall not say loved, because his memory will not dim for us. He was a lovely shining knight and we are thankful that we were privileged to know him and to have him lead us.

May I write to you from time to time to find out if you are all right and if the children are all right too: We love you very much and don’t want to lose touch. We hope to be able to come to Washington soon to visit “our grave” and pay our respects.

Keep well and God watch over you and the children.

With deepest affection,

Ethel Bedsow