What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love

What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love by Carole Radziwill; 2005

I’m a Real Housewives addict, and have been for years. Like an embarrassing amount of years. When Carole Radziwill joined the cast of the NYC wives a few years ago, she was a refreshingly level-headed voice of reason. Here was a woman who had a real career: a former award-winning ABC News producer turned writer. Carole also has ties to the Kennedy family. She was married to Anthony Radziwill, a prince (of Poland), and the cousin of John F. Kennedy Jr. John’s wife, Carolyn Bessette, was Carole’s best friend.

What Remains has been circled around in the housewives for a few years, which is where I first heard about the memoir. What Remains focuses on the summer in “year five” of Anthony’s fatal battle with cancer. That summer was intended to be spent at Martha’s  Vineyard with John and Carolyn, while Anthony was most certainly losing his battle with cancer. Within three weeks, Carole lost her husband and two best friends.

Carole met Anthony at ABC News, where they were both producers. Their romance was slow-burning, and Anthony ultimately proposed after he discovered he had a relapse with cancer. From there their lives revolved around cancer treatments, recovery, and relapse – rinse and repeat for five years. Anthony’s spirit during the majority of this time is admirable, if not heartbreaking in hindsight; he maintains a plucky, fighting spirit throughout most of his sickness, but often seemed to be in denial. John and Carolyn are beside Carole and Anthony throughout the cancer, and Carolyn is Carole’s main confidante.

“I had prepared for the approaching sorrow, but not, as it turned out, for the one that was nearest.” The week before July 16, 1999, John and Carole would talk late about night about Anthony’s impending funeral arrangements and the eulogy that John had already written for Anthony. Then, Carole received a phone call in the middle of the night: John and Carolyn had never arrived from their expected flight. A few days later, their plane is discovered in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Vineyard. In the very few weeks remaining in Anthony’s life, Carole and Anthony spend it mourning the loss of their best friends. Three weeks later, Anthony lost his battle to cancer.

A side note: what I really appreciated about this memoir – apart from its honesty – was that it was not about name-dropping. Carole occasionally refers to her ties to fame on the housewives, but its hardly the center of her story. Similarly, in What Remains, Carole writes a lot about how she, and even Carolyn, were removed rom the “inner circle” of Kennedys; Carole and Carolyn each had distinctly drawn roles of wives and in-laws, often outside of the immediate family. Often, Carole seems uncomfortable around her in-laws.

I’ll admit that I mostly read this because I was curious about Carole’s writing; I wasn’t blown away, but she is certainly a graceful, talented, and efficient writer. She is definitely admirable for all that she has gone through and achieved.

This memoir was, obviously, extremely sad all around and depressing. It was so jarring to read about Carolyn and John’s seemingly idyllic life and their aid to Anthony, when they were closer to death than he was. The sadness resonated with me even more when I considered that Carole has never remarried, and is still affected by the loss of her husband and friends. A recommended read for Carole Radziwill fans.

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