Thursday, September 6, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt five)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

We left Venice for a simple hotel at the beach resort of Forte dei Marmi, and there we received word that my father had taken a real turn for the worse and we should return at once. Phil and I left the children with the college girl who was travelling with us and flew back to New York and on to Washington, which took sixteen hours. The thought of being there at his death disturbed me so deeply that I was torn between wanting to see him and hoping it had already happened. He died two days after we got back, but he knew I was there.

People react in such complicated ways to any death, but particularly to the death of a parent, because a lot of what one feels is about oneself and the sense that nothing now stands between that self and dying. You have now become the older generation. I believe that the closer and more loving the relationship is, the deeper but simpler the grief. Of my father’s children, my brother had the hardest time with his death, perhaps because their relationship was difficult to begin with and very ambivalent; through no fault of either of them, they had never been close. My mother was so complicated emotionally to begin with that his death was very hard for her. She had chafed under the burden of his aging, but when he died she sank into a deep depression. It was as if she had been leaning against a door that had suddenly burst open.

There was a private service for my father at Crescent Place, and a more public memorial service at the nearby All Souls Unitarian Church—one he had never attended. I suppose it was hard to hit on an appropriate spot for a nonreligious Jew. My parents’ friend Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered a eulogy, which I think was written by Sidney Hyman. Rudolf Serkin played with his quartet. The whole thing was simple and moving. And I couldn’t believe he was gone.

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