The title of my review is an excerpt from a particularly beautiful and compassionate letter from another widow, Helen Milano, to Jacqueline Kennedy, dated January 13, 1964. (Mrs. Milano's husband, a lawyer, was shot and killed by a client in April of 1963.)
Mrs. Milano goes on to tell Mrs. Kennedy:
"For me, nine months have gone by, and I still cry in
my pillow every night. Though I could not understand
why this should happen to my husband... I felt that
somewhere, somehow I would find the strength and the
courage to face reality. But thus far, my depression
was very great. I spent many hours with my priest and
he constantly told me that God would show me the way.
And then, while watching your sweet face, day after
day, I suddenly knew that God had chosen your courage
and tremendous faith to show me the way. Whenever my
day is bad and little on the depressing side, I think
of you, and say a Hail Mary for your husband and mine,
and the day seems to be a little less depressing.
God certainly moves in mysterious ways, for suddenly
'He' showed me the way through you, dear gracious,
humble and courageous Lady."
(I think the words Mrs. Milano uses to describe Mrs. Kennedy are just as applicable to Mrs. Milano.)
It's because of letters like this that this is a wonderful book. With what grief, respect and care these writers attempted to allievate Mrs. Kennedy's sorrow, and their own. Reading these letters really does give a reader born after 1963 a window into the emotions of the public and something of the visceral impact of the Kennedy assassination.
So why did I give this book four stars?
The letters are bordered with commentary from the author, Ellen Fitzpatrick. At page 201 Ms. Fitzpatrick states:
"It is hard to recall today that the culture of self-
revelation and public confession that is so much a
part of contemporary America did not exist in that
period. (...) The world of manners then stressed
propriety, decorum, and deference. _Many considered
rectitude, reserve, and reticence as virtues rather
than regrettable vestiges of repression one ought
to strive to overcome._"
That last sentence to me is Ms. Fitzpatrick's personal thrust into an otherwise affecting and well-edited collection of letters. I'll grant that some people may be reserved or reticent to the point of needing to overcome. But it's unfair for this imperceptive and insulated history professor to indicate these three traits are regrettable in every instance, or that they can't be virtues. I certainly don't believe that integrity, restraint and discretion -synonyms for rectitude, reserve, and reticence- are merely: "vestiges of repression" that ought to be overcome. I, for "one", could really do without the vomiting of out-of-control emotions - anger, prejudice, and "Too Much Information" that I see every day, just from switching on a TV or from reading "comments" sections in newspapers, or online. The writers of these letters, Mrs. Milano and the others, don't fall into this category - for all their emotion, they are gracious, thoughtful, and yes, restrained - just wanting to be consoled and to console.
Ironically, Jacqueline Kennedy, during those four intense days of national grief, was a model for the virtues of "rectitude, reserve and reticence" and probably would have been the last person to think that these qualities are regrettable.