“There is no tragedy in life like the death of a child.
Things never get back to the way they were…”
~Dwight D. Eisenhower
I came across this quote and of course it had such meaning that I had to do some research to find out if he had a child died during his life. Sure enough he did his first-born 3 year old son, Doud Eisenhower or “Icky” to his family had died. I figured that a statement like this had to be coming from a man who knew the deep down hurt and pain of the death of a child.
After he and his family relocated to Fort Meade in Severn, Maryland, his mother hired a sixteen-year-old servant girl who had been recovering from scarlet fever. In December 1920, shortly before Christmas, Icky caught scarlet fever from the servant. Though his mother tried desperately to save him, even calling a specialist from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore Icky died on January 2, 1921. His father then referred to this incident as “the most shattering moment of their lives, one that almost destroyed their marriage”. Mamie and Dwight blamed themselves for Icky’s death; had they checked the girl’s background, they would have found out that the girl had scarlet fever.
In his biography of Eisenhower, Stephen E. Ambrose wrote: “These feelings had to be suppressed if the marriage was to survive the disaster, but suppression did not eliminate the unwanted thoughts, only made them harder to live with. Both the inner-directed guilt and the projected feelings of blame placed a strain on their marriage. So did the equally inevitable sense of loss, the grief that could not be comforted, the feeling that all the joy had gone out of life. “For a long time, it was as if a shining light had gone out in Ike’s life,” Mamie said later. “Throughout all the years that followed, the memory of those bleak days was a deep inner pain that never seemed to diminish much.”
This great man who was the 34th President of the United States and a five star general in the United States Army that served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and of NATO personally felt the pain and it stayed with him his entire life. He NEVER “got over it.” He never “moved on” nor did he ever forget his son and the terrible loss his family had incurred. One would surely expect the President of the United States to be able to move forward and not allow this to effect his life and his marriage. He had more important things to do with his time than to reminisce the few short years that he had with his son.
On January 7, 1921, less than a week after his death, Icky was buried in Fairmont Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. Lester and Irene David said: “Forty-five years later Eisenhower, by then a national hero, flew to Abilene in an unpublicized trip. Dressed in a charcoal-gray suit, his deeply lined face pale and taut, Ike stood bareheaded as the body of little Icky, taken from Fairmont Cemetery, was reburied beneath the marble floor of the little thin-spired chapel of buff-colored stone on the grounds of the Eisenhower Center.”
After this, he was moved to the Eisenhower Presidential Center. His parents were buried next to him. In 1967, Eisenhower would look to Icky’s death as “the greatest disappointment and disaster of my life, the one I have never been able to forget completely”. For the rest of their lives, Dwight would send Mamie flowers on Icky’s birthday each year.
Could it be that such a powerful man could be so broken and shattered that he never recovered from the death of his son? He actually honored his wife on the very important day of the birth of “Icky” by sending her flowers to remember and memorialize the day, the very important day that his son was born on. How could this man say that his greatest disappointment and disaster was the death of his son? WOW! What powerful words. If Dwight D Eisenhower did not recover from the death of his 3 year old son, why am I expected to “get over’ and “move on” with the death of my 21 year old daughter. I had Heather 7 times longer than he had his son and him and Mamie never recovered. I think that if one of the most powerful men in the history of our country had a hard time dealing with the death of his son I should be allowed the same courtesy. All grieving parents should be allowed this honor of being able to talk, share and grieve the way we need to without judgment.