I remember reading this letter years ago. I used to spend many rainy afternoons in the college library avoiding any course-related work by devouring the biographies of the “Lost Generation” writers, artists, composers, dancers, and their benefactors. This letter has remained with me and I am reminded of it whenever I or someone I know experiences loss. I used to include the “golden bowl” line in sympathy cards, but I think it really only meant something to me. After reading several biographies on the Murphy family, I felt very fond of them, their loss of their two boys, while having all the treatments and specialists money could buy, hurt as if I actually knew them. The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald was an often-borrowed book from several libraries from Seattle to Interlochen (until I found my own copy in a second-hand book store) and it’s content I think of at least once a week. I hope you like it too. -spa
On January 30th of 1937, two years after his older brother, Baoth, succumbed to meningitis, 16-year-old Patrick Murphy passed away following a seven year battle with tuberculosis. The boys’ 20-year-old sister, Honoria, remained. A few days later, the children’s distraught parents, Gerald and Sara Murphy, received the following letter of condolence from their friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
(Source: The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald; Image: Sara Murphy in 1926 with her children, via.)
January 31, 1937
Dearest Gerald and Sara:
The telegram came today and the whole afternoon was so sad with thoughts of you and the happy times we had once. Another link binding you to life is broken and with such insensate cruelty that it is hard to say which of the two blows was conceived with more malice. I can see the silence in which you hover now after this seven years of struggle and it would take words like Lincoln’s in his letter to the mother who had lost four sons in the war to write you anything fitting at the moment. The sympathy you will get will be what you have had from each other already and for a long, long time you will be inconsolable.
But I can see another generation growing up around Honoria and an eventual peace somewhere, an occasional port of call as we all sail deathward. Fate can’t have any more arrows in its quiver for you that will wound like these. Who was it said that it was astounding how deepest griefs can change in time to a sort of joy? The golden bowl is broken indeed but it was golden; nothing can ever take those boys away from you now.