Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Friend, Carole Radziwill

When I was twenty-three years old, my dad passed away.  I struggled with the swift and shocking loneliness of the situation.  I felt as though none of my friends understood, because at the relatively young age of twenty-three, few of my peers had lost a parent.  And so I poured over the memoirs of people who had lost a loved one.  The words of Joan Didion and Calvin Trillin and Carole Radziwill became my friends.

Carole Radziwill is the widow of Anthony Radziwill.  Anthony was the son of Lee Bouvier Radziwill and the cousin of John F. Kennedy, Jr.  Carole wrote a moving book about the experience of Anthony being diagnosed with and dying from cancer.  I read the book several times, as though I was having a conversation with an old friend over and over again.  Sentences were underlined; pages were dogeared; margins were filled with notes.  

In the book, Carole describes a scene in a hospital when it appears that Anthony is not going to make it through the night:

“Tonypro,” he (John F. Kennedy, Jr.) says quietly and grabs Anthony’s hand.  John’s shoes are black and shiny.  His bow tie is undone.  His tuxedo looks comical in the yellow lights of the ICU.

He begins humming, and then there are words.  We can barely hear him, but Anthony does, and he smiles.  His eyes are still closed, but they seem more relaxed when he smiles, and then his mouth starts to move along with John’s.

If you go down to the woods today,
You’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the woods today,
You’d better go in disguise.
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

They sing together softly, this children’s song, with their hands clasped like little boys.  They sing it over and over, John holding tightly on to Anthony’s hand.  They are in a place that no one else has ever been or could ever go, singing a song that John’s mother used to sing to the two of them.  The boys who laughed and played and sang silly songs are all grown up now – John in a tuxedo, Anthony in a hospital gown.

The doctors think Anthony will die tonight, and John takes him to the safest place he knows.

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