If you are like me, you are a hopeless romantic at heart. Therefore, when you pick up a book that is based on a marriage between a real life prince and a working-class woman, you hope for a "happily-ever-after" ending for the couple. But in the case of What Remains, I knew from the start that this was no "happily-ever-after" story. I knew the ending before I knew the beginning. I knew that I probably should have a box of kleenex nearby as I read. And I knew that I had to read the book despite all of that.
Because of the never-ending interest in the "American royal family"—the Kennedys, I picked this book up to read about the friend of the wife of John F. Kennedy Jr. What I didn't realize was that in reading Radziwill's account of deep friendships, love and loss, I would find validation for some very real thoughts and feelings of my own.
At the age of nineteen, Carole DiFalcoe left her small town existance in Connecticut to head to New York City in the hopes of a new life in journalism. A volunteer position at ABC News eventually turned into a career and the opportunity to meet a colleague who would later become her husband, Anthony Radziwill. Anthony was a member of a Polish royal family—a real life prince. He was also the nephew of President John F. Kennedy. Without the pretenses of his royal background, Radziwill worked in the news industry and was on assignment when he met Carole DiFalcoe.
In fairy tales, the handsome prince marries the commoner, and they live an idyllic life. In the case of Anthony and Carole, the handsome prince is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer before they marry, and the woman who would be a princess is catapulted into a life of emotional upheaval, uncertainty, and constant fear of loss. Their marriage is a life of doctor visits, surgeries, follow-up cancer screening tests, and escapes to vacation spots to celebrate a temporary cancer-free state. They live their life in the landscape of "If we can just get through this next hurdle, we will be fine."
One of the constants in their life is their friendship with JFK Jr and his wife, Carolyn Bessette. John and Anthony were friends above and beyond their family ties. Carolyn was Carole's closest friend. Together they faced the emotional and physical ups and downs of Anthony's disease. Together they weathered the constant barrage of photographers and journalists hungry for a glimpse of or a story about John and Carolyn. Life was anything but normal for either of the young couples. It held so much promise for one of the couples and so much heartache for the other couple. Together they were there for one another no matter what the emotional temperature of the moment. As Carole was coming to grips with the fact that her husband was dying from the unstoppable metastatic fibrosarcoma, John and Carolyn were there by her side. But her whole life unraveled when John and Carolyn's plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Planning for her husband's death and memorial service was hard enough to comprehend. Dealing with the unexpected loss and grief of her family and friends to the sea in such a violent manner was beyond comprehension.
What Remains is the story of friends and family, of life and love, and of overwhelming grief and loss. It is told in gut-wrenching honesty with a sensitivity that can only come from one who has known the highs and lows of such a life firsthand. The book is a gift to all who read it. It is a haunting and touching tribute to those whom Carole loves and misses deeply. What Remains gives credence to the fears and constant longings of those battling cancer and wishing for a reprieve from the uncertainty, wishing for the ability to look to the future without trepidation. As one who lives daily with these same fears and concerns, the poignancy of their personal and emotional struggles rang true and touched my heart deeply. It is one of those books that must be read and then savored for the beauty even in the sadness of the story. It is one of those books that, even though you know the ending before you read the first line, you will never forget the beautiful way in which the author chose to tell her story.
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