Condolence, Then and Now
Submitted without comment are the following two expressions of comfort and consolation, to survivors upon the deaths of loved ones. Both are to parents newly bereft of children in wartime; both were delivered by high American government officials in the executive branch; and both are exemplary of the best of their respective authors' inner lights.
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
"Did your son always have balls the size of cue balls?"
Joseph Biden, to Charles Woods, father of slain Navy Seal Tyrone Woods on 14-September-2012.
[In the interest of full disclosure, several points.
1. Mrs. Bixby apparently lost two sons, not five, on the field of battle.
2. Although unknown to Lincoln at the time he penned the letter, this circumstance detracts nothing from the eloquent expression of his lofty sentiment.
3. Some swirl of controversy exists about his authorship of the letter, no original being known extant, although its ascription to him is beyond serious doubt.
4. No doubt exists, however, that enough time has elapsed for the sitting vice-president to disavow having delivered himself of this utterance should he wish, adding to the sin of being in thrall to a chief executive whose perversity knows know bounds, also to impugn the veracity of the bereaved elder Mr. Woods.]
Richard Kantro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org