I confess that, in the past few weeks, I’ve been drawn to media coverage about the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. No matter how many times I see the video of the shooting, it never loses its power over me.
I was only six years old. My salient memory of the event is of the palpable grief of my parents. It was the first time I ever saw my father weep—the first time my mother was visibly distressed. I’m sure they did their best to shield me and my younger sisters from the gory details on television and in the newspapers, but I gleaned enough to know that this was very big and very terrible.
This memory is a vivid reminder to me that children often need help understanding how to think about the catastrophic events they hear about or even experience themselves. Because many children write to Highlights with questions or expressions of grief after a tragedy, this subject is top of mind for us. We often repeat Mister Fred Rogers’s well known advice to young children to “look for the helpers,” so simple but effective.
When older children reach out to us, we encourage them to continue to talk to a trusted adult, express their feelings through writing or drawing, and reach out to do something concrete and helpful when possible, whether it’s baking cookies for first responders or collecting toys for frightened children. In my near-twenty years at Highlights helping to read and answer children’s mail, my staff and I have helped kids work through their feelings on everything from the death of Princess Diana to Hurricane Katrina to the horrific events of 9/11.
In the months that followed the death of President Kennedy, Highlights received many letters from children who were grieving our nation’s loss. By then, our custom of responding to every letter we receive from children was well established, and all of these letters were thoughtfully, sensitively answered. In April, 1964, Highlights magazine published some of these letters.
Our readers’ writings, shared here, are poignant and heartfelt. I’m proud that our founding editors saw this as a way to acknowledge the impact of this event on our youngest citizens, whose pain and sadness perhaps were not as readily recognized as that of adults at the time. By documenting their young voices in this way, we added meaning and significance to this historical event that rocked the world—and, today, this page reminds us all that children, too, need to be heard, particularly in times of trouble.
(Click on the image to enlarge)