When I started to write for this blog a few years ago I promised myself that this was not going to become some kind of personal journal. I had seen others do it and I did not like what I read; unprofessional.
A month ago I wrote the piece appended to this submission based on a fine article in Newsweek about the Kennedy family and their latest chapter of personal crisis. I wrote it and then set it aside: too personal, therefore, unprofessional.
Life changes us and in the past 90 days I have learned that this can be good. When I set aside my piece about the Kennedys I did so because most of us live lives quite apart from anything that family has experienced. It is easy to dismiss them, for after all, they are not mere mortals but Kennedys. What life’s experience has taught me in the past 80 days is that we are all mere mortals no matter what our pedigree.
I met Madeline Lamb in 1986 as opposing counsel in a divorce transaction. She was smart, beautiful and knew how to play her cards at this game even though we were both bagmen for the star attorneys our clients had hired to represent them. Shortly thereafter we both left work with the stars and went about setting up our own practices.
For the next 25 years we ran up against each other a fair amount. We also were co-counsel in one of these mega-dollar cases that lawyers love to brag about. Through that case we both became close with our client and through that client we became social friends. Perhaps three to four times a year we would all get together and Madeline would arrange for all of us to go to nice restaurants which she was famous for patronizing. Each time, we would be greeted like pashas because of Madeline but before the night was over Madeline surely had to throw twenty dollar bills at the owner and his staff because we behaved very so badly.
That was three times a year on Saturday night. On Monday, it would be back in the trenches sort of like the Christmas armistices that took place in the civil war and the first world war. The layperson reading this might take the cynical view and say we did this for our benefit. Madeline and I disagreed a lot; in fact, a hell of a lot. But never, never, never was there an instance where she was not sincerely advocating on behalf of her clients. And when it came time to draw swords because we couldn’t settle a matter it was strictly lady and gentleman; the way lawyers are taught it should be.
We were not close friends as I would define it. But even after Madeline gave me an earful about how stupid my client was and how ridiculous I was arguing my client’s position, we would pause to talk about grandkids, Cape May and the injustice of the system. Lawyers love to talk about the injustice of the system almost as much as they like to brag about their endless victories in important cases.
Our posse of evil dinner guests last convened in February at my home because no reputable restaurant would accept us. We exchanged gifts that would not be described to polite company. We talked into the night. Madeline had just come back from a cruise where some dread outbreak caused everyone to be confined to their staterooms. She complained of neuropathy in her feet but dismissed it as “being 71”.
On April 19 Madeline went to the family law section meeting and presented her case law update as she had for 25 years. The following day she was in Court and professing to feel badly, decided to hit the emergency room at Paoli Hospital on her way home.
Life’s rope slipped far too quickly after that. The diagnosis was a highly virile form of brain cancer. Her daughter lived in Raleigh near the Duke University Medical Center. Her former husband stepped forward and made certain there was a quick means to get her there. Thus began the battle to defeat what seemed to be overwhelming odds. That battle was fully joined for just over two months with daily dispatches from the front reported by a daughter whose bravery was exceeded only by her compassion and her ability to articulate objectively everything that she witnessed to hundred of friends who logged onto the caringbridge website.
By the end of June, it became clear that the war could not be won. Even simple palliatives like platelets were not reviving our friend’s condition. On June 28 Madeline, her daughter Amanda and the physicians met and decided that the war had to end if life was to end peacefully and at home, surrounded by family.
Madeline Lamb departed this good earth at 1:35am on Sunday, July 8, not even three months after diagnosis. She died peacefully at home as it should be. She was an outstanding attorney, a leader in her profession and her community. She was always a “lady” in the finest sense which is to say that she allowed herself a good time but never at the expense of others.
Ironically, I did not learn of her passing until Monday morning. After sending a quick note to her daughter, I found myself back in the cockpit fighting over money and children. For folks in our trade, it is the daily fare. But today, late in the afternoon I had a particularly acrimonious conversation with another attorney whom I also consider a friend. Our fight had to do with parents who had separated a few days before Madeline was forced to accept that her life was at its conclusion.
These parents have four young children and, we can hope, a lifetime of parenting ahead of them. Yet, their personal conflict has resulted in the children not seeing one of them for almost three weeks. As I put the phone back in the cradle it occurred to me how easy it is to ignore the fragility of life. When we are healthy it is easy to “go to extremes with impossible schemes.” If only we could give recognition to how precious life is, perhaps less of it would be squandered on trifling matters. Family lawyers would make a little less money but this world would be a better place and the children we all profess to love so much, could be spared much of life’s anxiety.
Unlike the Kennedy saga described in Newsweek, Madeline Lamb’s life was not grand. It was well lived. And may that be a lesson to us all.
THE MARY KENNEDY TRAGEDY
We write occasionally about celebrity divorces. We do so because readers find them interesting; a release from the mundane.
This week’s Newsweek features a celebrity divorce but with a very real side. Mary Kennedy was the beautiful and highly intelligent second wife of Robert Kennedy, Jr. Kennedy has always been a sort of professional conservationist. The couple married in 1994 and had four children. Only 13 when his Father was shot to death, his life has also been marred by some tragic flaws.
In May, 2010 Robert Kennedy filed for divorce. Within days Mary was arrested not once but twice for driving while intoxicated. The Newsweek story as reported by Lawrence Leamer describes two years of non-stop domestic warfare with attorneys fees reported to exceed more than $1 million. During this period it would seem that Mary’s life and her talents came apart at the seams.
By the Spring of this year Mary saw her children only in a supervised setting. She continued to live in the “big house” she had helped to design in suburban New York but even friends who profess to have adored her told Leamer that she was disintegrating before their eyes. Her hatred for her husband, whether justified or not, became a consuming rage. On May 16 she took a rope, tied it carefully into a noose and threw the rope over a beam in her barn. It is there that she was found by her husband and a housekeeper. She was 52 years old.
The Kennedy’s four children, age 10-17 had not suffered enough pain. The Richardson and Kennedy families decided that there needed to be a fight over where the body would be buried. The publication of the Newsweek article has revived the fight as the Richardson Family attempts to defend their daughter’s honor against allegations by her husband that she was both violent and alcoholic.
Chances are the death of Mary Kennedy will deprive us of the chance to uncover the whole truth. But there are some remarkable lessons to be taken from his article. They transcend any importance to deciding whether Mary Kennedy was the victim or the perpetrator of a marriage gone bad. Among them:
1. As attorneys we are seeing more and more people enmeshed in domestic disputes becoming obsessed and irrational in response to what statistics tells us is a fairly common life event. When this occurs they engage in behaviors highly destructive to themselves and even more destructive to their young children. Many times they insinuate their children into their divorce battles under the absurd pretense that children need to know the “truth”. Small children cannot really grasp the truth of adult relationships. The reality is that many adults don’t seem to be able to grasp the truth.
2. Despite our electronic connectivity, we are more and more isolated from friends and family that could help us. A keyboard allows me to communicate “to” a huge world. But it can just as often give me little to no assurance that others are listening, let alone trying to understand my pain. Everyone today is “busy” in one way or another. Yet there is no electronic substitute for the look of empathy, the hug or the squeeze of the human hand when a friend or family member is suffering.
3. An adversarial system that allows humans to spend more than a million dollars and two or more years of precious life in a form of mortal combat is broken. Children growing up in this kind of conflict cannot help but be damaged by such a process; yet again and again we permit children to spend years in this limbo.
4. Education, money, magnificent homes and gorgeous offspring have something to do with pride and personal convenience but almost nothing to do with human happiness. This family once had all of these things. Today, a once vital human is no more and people who professed to love that person have celebrated her life and mourned her death by wrestling over where her corpse is buried.