Blogapalooza: The Impact of a Stranger's Death

I am participating in ChicagoNow’s Blogapalooza, where we are given a topic and have one hour to write a blog post. 

The topic is: “Write about a person you never met whose death had an impact on you.”

The first person who comes to my mind is Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie Lincoln, who died of typhoid fever in 1862.  America’s sixteenth President is an ongoing presence in our house.   Three summers ago, we visited Springfield during a road trip with dear friends.

During that trip, we toured Abraham Lincoln’s home.  I remember staring at the black horsehair couches in the living room, imagining the Lincoln boys climbing all over such finery.

We went to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and gazed at exquisite exhibits from the life and death of Abraham Lincoln and his family.  One of the exhibits depicts 11-year-old Willie as he lay dying in his bed.  I felt the profound helplessness of impending loss as I studied the scene.

When the sick boy passed, President Lincoln cried, “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!”

I cannot relate to what it must have been like to lead our country through the great Civil War.  I cannot know what it meant to experience daily life in the mid-nineteenth century.  But the love of a parent for a child – this I do know.

Whenever I read accounts of Lincoln’s terrible grief over the loss of his boy while in office, it humanizes him for me.  Lincoln was a hero – according to my first grade daughter, Annie Rose, he was the greatest hero that ever lived – and there is much about his life that reads like a storybook to me.  He becomes real to me when I imagine him with his children, frolicking in the White House, indulging their naughty behavior, seeking a bit of normalcy in the escapades of his boys amidst the chaos that ravaged the nation.

Lincoln suffered a great many burdens while in office, and his young sons provided him with the distraction and the joy he needed to bear up.  I always view the loss of Willie as a cruel blow to that great man, and I admire him even more for his ability to persevere in the face of such complete grief. I will never forget his simple and honest words at the death of his son:  “It is hard, hard to have him die.”  Much of the language in the 1800’s sounded different than the way we speak today, but not that sentence.  The expression for loss of a child transcends centuries and the years between Lincoln’s life and our current calendar melt away.

Abraham Lincolm may be remembered most for his actions as a President, but I personally give him equal acknowledgment for his role as a father.

Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear

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