Jump to content
Grief Healing Discussion Groups

November 22, 1963

Recommended Posts

Dear friends,

Someone asked me earlier tonight about my memories of this day 50 years ago. As I finished writing this I realized that part of my fragile emotional state in recent days is caused not just by where I am in the cycle that leads inexorably to Jane's death, but with this first truly emotional death from my youth.
I was in the sixth grade. It was a beautiful day outside--unseasonably warm--and the windows in our classroom were open to let the fresh air in. The windows were big old things. The school was red brick and the blackboards were black. Our desks were pushed together in groups of six. My group was back by the cloak closet.
School ended about 3 p.m. for us. The high school and junior high got out about 2 p.m., so it must have been about 2:20 when I heard two older kids talking outside as they walked by. They were discussing the difference between murder and assassination. I remember thinking they must be studying Lincoln's death in their history class, which meant they must be in eighth grade. My attention went back to the project I was working on--probably math.
Our teacher, Mr. Ouellette, was called out into the hall by the principal. That was not unusual. The two often talked as the day was drawing to a close. The principal also taught the sixth grade class across the hall. His name I have long ago forgotten. He was short and rail thin where Mr. Ouellette was taller and fairly stout.
But there was no laughter and our teacher was very solemn as he came back in. He fidgeted for a minute, as though he were trying to decide something.
"Could I have your attention, please," he finally said. "I think you're old enough you should hear this. President Kennedy has been shot--assassinated--in Dallas. He died about 45 minutes ago."
I don't recall that any of us said anything. I think we were all completely stunned. We had been through the Cuban Missile Crisis a couple years before. We all knew we could have been--probably should have been--dead--and that JFK had, somehow, stopped that from happening. He was, I think, to all of us, a hero--not only because of that but because of what he had done in the Pacific in World War II. His whole life seemed like a miracle--and now he was dead.
I don't remember the bus ride to the school in the center of town where we would catch the bus that would take us home. I know one of my brothers or sisters asked me what was going on--and I know I told them something, but I don't know what. I remember the paperboy running in with the Lowell Sun--about two hours late--and shouting something to my parents--then dashing out again to continue on his route. He just opened the door and walked in then right back out again.
I remember standing outside with the other kids in the neighborhood that night. We stood under the streetlight talking in low voices--but I have no memory of what we said to each other in that little puddle of light surrounded by darkness. We usually played a local variant of hide-and-seek that involved two teams and multiple jailbreaks--but we did not play it that night--nor any night for a long time after that.
I remember sitting in front of the television as the casket was taken to the Capitol Rotunda--and Jackie and Caroline kneeling in front of it. I remember Oswald's arrest--and his murder by Jack Ruby. I remember watching the funeral and the horse-drawn caisson moving through the streets to Arlington Cemetery and the 21 gun salute. And I know I was in shock for a long time after that. I know we all were.
We had already been through a lot of emotional trauma, though. Air raid drills were as frequent as fire drills in our schools--and that was true long before the Russians tried to put rockets in Cuba. I remember our teachers yelling "flash" in the middle of a sentence--and all of us diving underneath our desks. I remember the Civil Defense movies they showed us in class and the PSAs on television at night. I remember a citywide air raid drill and taking refuge on some neighbor's porch. And I remember seeing a film of what an atom bomb could do to a house--or a person.
The times were nasty and terrifying. I'm not sure any of us actually had a childhood anyone would recognize. In a sense, Kennedy's death was one more piece of trauma for us--one more reason we could not afford not to be adults. Death was coming for us--it was coming for us all. And Kennedy's death demonstrated to us that even the people we saw as gods could--and would-- die suddenly and without warning--leaving us unprotected and at the mercy of others. As children, we had no chance. As adults, our chances would, realistically, be little better--but better than if we stayed children.
We grew up fast--perhaps too fast. We were the first children of the nuclear age. Then we became the first children to see a real war on television. Then we became the first American children to literally watch our heroes die by the guns of assassins.
Those things shaped who we became and what we did with our lives. For some of us, they fueled the despair that led to drugs. For others, they led to a cynicism about the world that brought on a very different--materialistic--despair that made the self all important.
But others of us embraced a fatalistic idealism that accepted the words of Kennedy's inaugural address as a mission statement. We spent our lives asking what we could do for our country and our world. We accepted the challenge of the new frontier, knowing that acceptance might well lead to our deaths--and for some of us, it has.
The hardest part of today for many of us has not been remembering Kennedy's death; nor has it been all the other deaths his death also reminds us of. Rather, it has been the knowledge of how bright our hopes once were--and how far short of those hopes we have fallen. That is the problem with having ideals: because they are ideals they are often impossible to achieve in a single lifetime.
This does not mean we give up and join the race to pig in trough. It means we must continue to hold high the torch that Kennedy and King and Evers--and all our other departed heroes--handed off to us. They may have been giants--and we may feel ourselves lilliputian by comparison--but though our success and reward be uncertain, and we feel unequal to the task, we must continue to move forward with the certainty that the work they left unfinished must now truly be our own.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest babylady

thank you for a beautiful post harry.

i was 22 and working at a law firm in downtown manhattan. i was on my way back from lunch with 2 co-workers. when we got to our building there was a car parked with the radio on. that's when we heard it. when we got upstairs they had the radio on. one of the women i was with had recently lost her husband to a heart attack. he died in her arms. when it was confirmed that the president was dead she fainted. when she came to one of the lawyers gave her something to drink -- probably brandy.

the subways were empty that night. guess most people went home early. i couldn't stop crying. i can't remember if i went to my grandmother's. she took care of my son or if i went directly home.

my POS ex husband was in prison at the time and i was supposed to visit him the next day. my MIL was coming with me. we usually met at the port authority bus terminal, but i was so freaked out i asked her to come over and sleep at my house.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Harry, this entire story is just stunning....thought provoking...and filled with memories that trip off my own. I am particularly taken by the final paragraph. I know the anniversary of Jane's death is approaching and I do know, too well, how difficult these days and especially the time leading up to them can be as we relive and remember. Know that you are in my thoughts as you walk through these days. I believe this is the 3rd anniversary and that seems impossible, I am sure, and yet also feels like it has been many more years ago. You have honored her well during these days and years by all your dedicated work and by being who you are. Peace to your heart, Mary

Link to comment
Share on other sites


As I read the newspaper talking about the 50th anniversary of his death, I thought about what a different place the world was then, how different our president had been, how it'd been a time of hope and peace. JFK was dearly loved and never got to fulfill everything he wanted to as a president, his young life snuffed out way too soon. I remember that day too as I was in the sixth grade...I recall the teacher telling us the president had been shot and killed...the grownups were all crying, everywhere I looked, on my way home from school, the country was in morning, my parents among them in shock and grief. It is a day that none of us who were our age and older, will ever forget.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good post Harry. I was in my freshman year of college. Will never forget a classmate coming into our dorm room and telling us the president had been shot. We first thought it was a joke. I remember later watching the news in the student center, and several of the teachers crying. We were all stunned I believe. Thank you for sharing with us.

Mary (Queeniemary) in Arkansas

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you Harry for a beautiful piece of writing. Both moving and inspiring, thank you.

I remember so vividly this awful day. I was a teenager, and I remember that we sat around the table and before we even put our napkins in our lap, we had to each offer a short prayer for the Nation, new President, our beloved JFK (I thought he and Jackie were totally glamourous and beautiful, but I didn't know much about politics, actually. I loved their children. I was a teenager, not realy tuned into a lot of things yet.) and for the family. I was crying for Jackie.

But yes, better than focusing on the grief and anger, and all the sordidness of it, to instead turn and focus on some of the good things JFK was trying to accomplish. We can each pick up a tiny bit of his vision, and carry it forward in our own way.

Thank you Harry.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

I can't imagine what she went through. Each of us knows the inner pain of your spouse dying...but to have to carry on publicly in the face of it, I don't think I'd have it in me. I was dazed when George died. She had his blood and brains splattered all over her and she somehow continued throughout her day...how do you do that? She was an amazing First Lady.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They were adorable. It seems like the Kennedys have had a curse following them or something, they've had so much tragedy. Perhaps it was Joe's karma, who knows. I'm not superstitious but it makes you wonder.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...