How Bush Deals with Grieving Families
Newsweek has an interesting story about how President Bush deals with grieving families. You can find the full story over here. Here are two excerpts that I found interesting.
“Bush likes to play the resolute War Leader, and he has never been known for admitting mistakes or regret. But that does not mean that he is free of doubt. For the past three years, Bush has been living in two worldsâ€”unwavering and confident in public, but sometimes stricken in private. Bush’s meetings with widows like Crystal Owen offer a rare look inside that inner, private world.
Last week, at his ranch in Texas, he took his usual line on Iraq, telling reporters that the United States would not pull out its troops until Iraq was able to defend itself. While he said he “sympathized” with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, he refused to visit her peace vigil, set up in a tent in a drainage ditch outside the ranch, and sent two of his aides to talk to her instead.
Privately, Bush has met with about 900 family members of some 270 soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The conversations are closed to the press, and Bush does not like to talk about what goes on in these grieving sessions, though there have been hints. An hour after he met with the families at Fort Bragg in June, he gave a hard-line speech on national TV. When he mentioned the sacrifice of military families, his lips visibly quivered.”
The most tellingâ€”and movingâ€”picture of Bush grieving with the families of the dead was provided by Rachel Ascione, who met with him last summer. Her older brother, Ron Payne, was a Marine who had been killed in Afghanistan only a few weeks before Ascione was invited to meet with Bush at MacDill Air Force Base, near Tampa, Fla.
Ascione wasn’t sure she could restrain herself with the president. She was feeling “raw.” “I wanted him to look me in the eye and tell me why my brother was never coming back, and I wanted him to know it was his fault that my heart was broken,” she recalls. The president was coming to Florida, a key swing state, in the middle of his re-election campaign. Ascione was worried that her family would be “exploited” by a “phony effort to make good with people in order to get votes.”
Ascione and her family were gathered with 18 other families in a large room on the air base. The president entered with some Secret Service agents, a military entourage and a White House photographer. “I’m here for you, and I will take as much time as you need,” Bush said. He began moving from family to family. Ascione watched as mothers confronted him: “How could you let this happen? Why is my son gone?” one asked. Ascione couldn’t hear his answer, but soon “she began to sob, and he began crying, too. And then he just hugged her tight, and they cried together for what seemed like forever.”
Ascione’s family was one of the last Bush approached. Ascione still planned to confront him, but Bush disarmed her in an almost uncanny way. Ascione is just over five feet; her late brother was 6 feet 7. “My whole life, he used to put his hand on the top of my head and just hold it there, and it drove me crazy,” she says. When Bush saw that she was crying, he leaned over and put his hand on the top of her head and drew her to him. “It was just like my brother used to do,” she says, beginning to cry at the memory.
Before Bush left the meeting, he paused in the middle of the room and said to the families, “I will never feel the same level of pain and loss you do. I didn’t lose anyone close to me, a member of my family or someone that I love. But I want you to know that I didn’t go into this lightly. This was a decision that I struggle with every day.”
As he spoke, Ascione could see the grief rising through the president’s body. His shoulder slumped and his face turned ashen. He began to cry and his voice choked. He paused, tried to regain his composure and looked around the room. “I am sorry, I’m so sorry,” he said.”