Presidents of the United States of America are honored yearly on Presidents Day, Feb. 20. This year my thoughts are focused on President Abraham Lincoln whose birthday in February, along with President George Washington’s, forms the basis for Presidents Day. Lincoln stands as a great President for many reasons. One is written about in the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” He showed great wisdom by selecting political opponents to sharpen his executive decision-making by making them cabinet members in his administration.
My lesson learned this week comes from the notation in the Lincoln book citing almost every one of the men in Lincoln’s cabinet, including Lincoln himself, suffered the loss of children and in some cases spouses. Doris Kearns Goodwin, the author, notes how these deaths were mourned each and every day. The death of Lincoln’s son Willie, probably from typhoid fever, in the White House on Feb. 20, 1862, almost certainly led to the manifestations of mental illness by his mother, Mary Todd, and clearly had a profound effect on the president himself.
Naturally, with our Upshur County Schools children on my mind, I began to grieve again the death of our children and grandchildren over the years. My lesson learned serving on the Upshur County Board of Education is that the death of children impacted our country then and now.
33,000 children younger than 14 years old died in the USA in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While most childhood deaths are from congenital causes and accidents, there is an increasing number of deaths from the misuse of opiate pain medications, heroin, and fentanyl. Indeed, West Virginia is the storm center of our current drug epidemic.
More than one family has shared with me that the painful loss of a child never leaves. The tragic event is described as if it just happened yesterday. The loss of a classmate is grieved by school assemblies, religious ceremonies in local houses of worship and counseling by our school nurses, counselors and health care providers for those severely impacted. I gain solace from meditating on scripture such as the 23rd Psalm. Our supportive mountain community provides us with a comforting presence and a soothing space to reflect as we walk together along the river or sit on our porches sharing memories.
The final stage of grief as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, M.D., is for us all to resolve that the death of our children not be in vain. That certainly drives the Upshur County BOE to support programs like our Red Ribbon Week, making our educational focus prevention. Each day we renew our vow to protect and preserve the lives of our children, just as we remember daily those children our community has lost. President Lincoln and his Team of Rivals did as much nearly 150 years ago. These leaders still have much to teach us. God Bless The USA!