Anne de Gaulle
(I wrote this post back in 2009. I am republishing it now because it has always been one of my favorites and the blog readership is far higher now. Additionally it is one of several posts that I have written that I think, in retrospect, may have been God’s way of preparing me for the loss of my son Larry on May 19 of this year. )
Charles de Gaulle could be a very frustrating man. Churchill, in reference to de Gaulle, said that the heaviest cross he had to bear during the war was the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the Free French forces. Arrogant, autocratic, often completely unreasonable, de Gaulle was all of these. However, there is no denying that he was also a great man. Rallying the Free French forces after the Nazi conquest of France, he boldly proclaimed, “France has lost a battle, France has not lost the war.” For more than a few Frenchmen and women, de Gaulle became the embodiment of France. It is also hard to dispute that De Gaulle is the greatest Frenchman since Clemenceau, “The Tiger”, who led France to victory in World War I. However, de Gaulle was something more than a great man, he was also at bottom a good man, as demonstrated by his youngest daughter Anne de Gaulle.
Charles and Yvonne de Gaulle were both devout Catholics, so when their youngest daughter Anne was born on New Years Day in 1928, they had a strong faith to fall back on when they learned that Anne had Down Syndrome. She also had birth injuries that meant that she would never walk unaided. There was never any question about Anne being institutionalized. She was a member of their family, and she stayed with the family in all their travels. There was one sacred rule in the de Gaulle household: Anne was never to be made to feel different or less than anyone else. Charles de Gaulle was noted for his reserve and even with family members he was usually not very demonstrative. Not so with his daughter Anne, who received a warmth that he had seemed to be storing for his entire life just for her. “Papa” was the one word that Anne could say clearly. He would sing to her, read her stories and play with her. She was, he said simply, “My joy”. As de Gaulle said, “She helped me overcome the failures in all men, and to look beyond them.”
Yvonne de Gaulle, a formidable woman in her own right, as she demonstrated after the collapse of France in 1940 when by herself she traveled across the war torn country and made sure her family, including Anne, was on the last transport from Brest to England, in October 1945 bought the Château de Vert-Cœur and established a hospital for handicapped girls, the Fondation Anne de Gaulle. The de Gaulles were heart-broken when their beloved daughter died on February 6, 1948 in her father’s arms. After they had buried her, Charles gently told his weeping wife, “Maintenant, elle est comme les autres.” (Now, she’s like all the others.)
Of course the de Gaulles did not forget their daughter. Charles de Gaulles’ life was saved by his love for Anne on August 22, 1962 when an assassin’s bullet was deflected in the car he was riding by the frame of the picture of his daughter which he carried with him at all times. When he died in 1970 he was buried beside his daughter at Colombey-les-Deux-Églises as he requested. Love gives us no guarantees against the tragedies of life, but it does give us the strength to surmount them.