AUGUST 16, 1960
NEW YORK—Life is a strange thing, and the only thing we can ever be sure of is the unexpected.
I went to Hyde Park the past Friday to meet a group of Roosevelt School children from Shippan Point, Stamford, Conn., and later to talk with about 50 Democratic women leaders from the Hyde Park Congressional district about the campaign activities of our candidate for Congress, Gore Vidal.
Just as the women were about to leave the telephone rang, and my son John was calling from Calais, Maine, near Campobello Island, where he and his wife had gone for a 10-day holiday three days earlier. He said:
"Mummy, it is Sally. She is unconscious in St. Luke's Hospital in Utica. They have been working on her to try to bring her back. We are chartering a plane to come down. Will you send your car with Tubby to meet us in Utica?"
("Sally" was Sara Delano Roosevelt, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John A. Roosevelt, who had been injured in a fall from a horse at the Moss Lake School for Girls camp near Old Forge, N.Y.)
John gave me a few more directions on things he wanted me to do, which I carried out promptly. In less than half an hour the word came back to me that this beautiful, alive, lovely child was dead.
Somehow the guests departed from Hyde Park without, I hope, knowing what had happened. I realized they would know soon enough. I hoped, too, that my poor son and his wife would not know Sally had gone until they reached Utica. But John called the hospital again and was given the final report that all efforts to save her had been useless and she was gone before they took off.
Every mother and father will know what it means to lose a child. Each year of their life adds memories and love, and when a blow like this falls, way down where others cannot join them parents go through the joy and agony of memory. The feel of a little body between their hands, the first looks of recognition, and then deeper and deeper understanding that comes through the eyes between parents and their children, the joys and sorrows they have shared.
I know, for instance, that every time Anne watches the children in the swimming pool her heart will ache for the slim young figure that was so graceful and so quick, such a good swimmer, such a good horsewoman. And every time John does something with the horses he will think of his most constant companion, the one who loved them as he did, who liked to fetch and care for horses, who loved to ride, and who made her father proud by her horsemanship.
These are the little things which make up the day-by-day life of a family, and two parents who have centered a great deal of their lives around their family have greater joys perhaps, but the pain of separation never completely fades away.
There is no explanation for tragedies as we feel them in the loss of a young life, but we must believe there is a reason which wisdom beyond our own can understand. We have to know that those who suffer in life are those who have the most understanding and love to give and who can help others more because they know what suffering is from personal experience.
It would all be a waste unless it meant that poor human beings who have loved and suffered much will, in the future, be able to give more, not only to their own, but to others not quite so close as their family circle.
The greatest value in living is to gain in understanding and to be able to give from the depths of one's understanding some small help and strength to others when they too are in trouble.