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The color of death is blue

Electrical lines in Dracut. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Electrical lines in Dracut. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Editor's Note: This is a letter from the editors included in WBUR's weekly opinions and ideas newsletter, Cognoscenti. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

Many of you are probably familiar with Jane Swift’s resume. It’s full of superlatives: youngest woman ever elected to the Massachusetts Senate (at 25), first woman to serve as governor of the commonwealth (at 36, she was also the youngest in the country at the time), first governor to ever give birth while in office (to twins, mind you – and she already had a toddler at home).

She also received a lot of flack in the process. The press was notoriously hard on her at the time for all sorts of things: her appearance, her decision to keeping living in Williamstown while governor, her family life.

This week, Swift wrote an essay for Cog reflecting on some of that coverage and how, even in 2023, topics related to “hair, hemlines and husbands” can still dominate above all others when it comes to women in power.

Swift lost her husband, Chuck, last year.  She’s been chronicling her journey through grief in a new newsletter, and one thing she’s found difficult is attending public events – the kind of back-slapping, hand-shaking political affairs she used to tackle with gusto. She says that’s been harder to navigate with her new “widow persona.”

In the essay, Swift recounts how at a recent event celebrating Massachusetts women in politics, she got upset about halfway through – and had to make her escape. In the moment, she couldn’t put her finger on what had her so out of sorts: She figured it was “that familiar goblin of grief.” But it wasn’t. What follows is a remarkably open and vulnerable exploration of class, shame and what so many of us are still getting wrong.

Regardless of what you think of the former governor’s politics, there’s much to learn from – and admire – in her story. I have it on good authority (from Jane herself!) that she’s received several missives from women who see themselves in the piece. And as a fellow working mother of three girls, I can relate.

Also this week: a beautiful essay by the novelist Katherine Sherbrooke about saying goodbye to her mother. I haven’t been able to shake the opening lines all week:  “The color of death is blue. That’s what the hospice nurse told us.”

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Cloe Axelson Twitter Senior Editor, Cognoscenti
Cloe Axelson is an editor of WBUR’s opinion page, Cognoscenti.



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