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Liz Ciancone

November 26, 2013

LIZ CIANCONE: Mourning a death is a personal exercise

One does not properly “celebrate” an assassination, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there are a lot of nuts out there. Coverage this past week of the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination still has the power to disturb, but all the theories won’t undo the facts.

For that matter, we are still replaying Lincoln’s assassination but now have to do it without eyewitness accounts.

Kennedy’s assassination was doubly disturbing for me. Dad died the night before. The hospital had called — at 2 a.m. — and I was asked for “permission to perform an autopsy on your father.” I knew that Dad’s illness was terminal, but was unaware that he was gone. By way of sympathy, the doctor who phoned said, “Well, that’s a hell of a way to get the news, isn’t it?”

While neither Dad’s death nor that of Kennedy gave cause for celebration those 50 years ago, I wanted to mourn Dad in a way more appropriate to him than to spend long days with nothing but mournful music and endless replays of the final moments of the president. I needed a good dose of comedy, maybe Red Skelton doing a Clem Kadiddlehopper, as a way to remember Dad’s delight in laughter. But the entire country was caught up in mourning a more important death.

Of course, I remember what I was doing when I learned of the Kennedy assassination. I was putting the meringue on a lemon pie, one of Dad’s favorites, as a treat for our supper. The telephone rang, but I popped the pie into the oven to brown before I answered.

What I heard was a mix of sobs and curses as a friend stammered, “they” have killed the president.

It was unthinkable. Not since the assassination of Lincoln had the country been so upset. The assassinations of Garfield and McKinley have never resonated in the public mind like the loss of Lincoln and, now, Kennedy.

I don’t remember what we had for supper that evening, other than lemon pie, but I do remember the worrying sadness for days. I needed to laugh again. It would have been the best way to remember Dad. Instead, there was ponderous music and endless pictures of the cavalcade and the end of “Camelot.”

I avoided as best I could any observances of this past week. Instead I spent a lot of time wondering what kind of pie to make for our family Thanksgiving.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send email to


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