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

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

by Carole Radziwill


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A stunning, tragic memoir about John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette, and his cousin Anthony Radziwill, by Radziwill’s widow.

What Remains is a vivid and haunting memoir about a girl from a working-class town who becomes an award-winning television producer and marries a prince, Anthony Radziwill. Carole grew up in a small suburb with a large, eccentric cast of characters. At nineteen, she struck out for New York City to find a different life. Her career at ABC News led her to the refugee camps of Cambodia, to a bunker in Tel Aviv, and to the scene of the Menendez murders. Her marriage led her into the old world of European nobility and the newer world of American aristocracy.

What Remains begins with loss and returns to loss. A small plane plunges into the ocean carrying John F. Kennedy Jr., Anthony’s cousin, and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Carole’s closest friend. Three weeks later Anthony dies of cancer. With unflinching honesty and a journalist’s keen eye, Carole Radziwill explores the enduring ties of family, the complexities of marriage, the importance of friendship, and the challenges of self-invention. Beautifully written, What Remains “gets at the essence of what matters,” wrote Oprah Winfrey. “Friendship, compassion, destiny.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743277181
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 06/05/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 57,669
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Carole Radziwill worked as an award-winning journalist with ABC News for fifteen years. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller What Remains, the novel A Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating, and she stars on the Bravo reality show The Real Housewives of New York.

Read an Excerpt


Friday, July 16, 1999

Three weeks before my husband died a young couple smashed their plane into the Atlantic Ocean, off the Massachusetts shoreline, well after the mid-July sun had set. It was reported in the news as 9:41, but I knew the general time, because I had spoken to the woman less than an hour before. The pilot was my husband's cousin, John Kennedy. His wife, Carolyn Bessette, was my closest friend. She was sitting behind him next to the only other passenger, her sister, Lauren. A still, hot summer day had melted into a warm and sticky night. A quiet night, unremarkable except for the fog, which rolls in and out of New England like a deep sigh.

While we were still making plans, before they took off from Caldwell, New Jersey, she called me from the plane.

"We'll fly to the Vineyard tomorrow, after the wedding. We can be there before dinner."

It was a short conversation, because I was going to see her the next day. I was staying in her house, their house, on Martha's Vineyard, with my husband, and they were taking a simple trip. One they'd made many other weekends, from a small airport in New Jersey to the islands off Massachusetts -- a well-worn ninety-minute path up the coastline.

I hung up the phone and opened the book I was reading and an hour later she was dead. Afterward I tried to find something to explain what had happened -- was it cloudy, were the stars out? But the night was ordinary. It usually is, I think, when your life changes. Most people aren't doing anything special when the carefully placed pieces of their life break apart.

They flew a lot that summer, from the city to the Vineyard, and we called each other every day if we weren't together.

"We're getting a late start. I'll call you in the morning."

It takes seconds to plunge into an irrevocable spin in a small plane -- into what the Federal Aviation Administration calls a graveyard spiral. According to the accident report, the plane broke the surface of the ocean three minutes after the pilot sensed a problem. At 9:38, he made a curious turn. One hundred and eighty seconds later, the last thirty of them aimed directly at the water, their stories ended abruptly.

I wonder if he felt the awkward motions of the plane in those minutes, the changes in speed or direction. It's likely he did not. If you close your eyes in an airplane, you don't feel up or down. You don't feel yourself tilting right or left. You don't feel anything, really, and your senses tell you it doesn't matter. Clouds were hiding the familiar strings of lights that paint the coastline. He might as well have been flying with his eyes closed.

"I need to talk to you," I said.

My husband, Anthony, was dying and we were all trying to pretend that he wasn't, that everything was fine.

"I can't hear you, Lamb. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

The accident report shows the pilot made a turn after passing Point Judith, Rhode Island -- he turned east, away from the coast, away from where he was going. And then another turn, and then another. It was puzzling to everyone, including the investigators, and after months of plotting radar signals, studying twisted pieces of wreckage, constructing maps and charts, and speculating about state of mind, they confirmed what they had suspected -- the pilot was disoriented. He may have turned, some suggested, hoping to spot something familiar. A landmark like the lighthouse at the tip of Gay Head, blinking a steady twenty-mile stream of light, muffled that night by thick, black air. He might have scanned the dark sky for Noman's Land -- the empty island you can see clearly in daylight from the beachfront of their Martha's Vineyard home.

Perhaps he felt a slight tilt of the plane, but it was more likely that the instrument panel caught his attention, his compass shifting slowly. He may have tried to correct it, turning the rudder slightly -- or adding pressure to the controls. But when it doesn't feel like you're turning, it feels wrong to correct it. He wouldn't have corrected it enough. He wouldn't have corrected it at all. He would have followed what his senses were telling him to do -- an overwhelming feeling of what he should do -- and it would be exactly the wrong thing.

It's possible that nothing felt unusual in the plane as his altimeter began to unwind, marking a perplexing descent. Slowly at first, then at a sickening rate. It is likely he was watching this helplessly. His senses, of no use to him, telling him to ignore, even then, irrefutable evidence. The handful of controls all showing deadly readings. She may not have noticed any of this. She wouldn't have seen the airspeed on the control panel, pegged in the red, reflecting the quickening pace of the ocean rushing up to them.

We were staying in their house because Anthony wanted to be on the Vineyard that summer, and I went along with it. In June when we arrived I gave the ambulance drivers a paper with directions to the house, and they taped it to the dashboard. "It's the chance of a lifetime," Anthony had said to me in a restaurant in New York before we left. "I don't know why you can't see that. We have the summer off, we can spend the days on the beach, have margaritas at sunset."

There were sunsets that summer, and when I noticed them I was grateful. But he was dying. It was likely, but unmentionable, that he wouldn't be going back to the city, and for everyone but Anthony it was hard to think of margaritas. It irritated him when I didn't play along.

One hundred and eighty seconds. John might have felt annoyance, perhaps, before panic. Frustration, and then fear. His pulse accelerating as one replaced the other. The water would be as black as the sky -- like concrete, at their rate of descent. It is possible that he thought for the entire three minutes that they were going to crash, probable that he thought it for thirty seconds.

It was a new plane and I wasn't familiar with it. It bothered me that I didn't know where she was sitting. The accident report recorded passengers in the aft-facing seats, but I couldn't picture her there. When I rode along, we settled down on the back seat and read magazines under the small light. If there were other passengers she sat up in the front. One weekend a year before, there were five of us going to the Vineyard. Carolyn was sitting next to John and her door popped open over the ocean. She stretched her arm into the clouds to grab the handle and clicked it shut. It was quick and smooth and insignificant to her.

But in the dark, on this night, did she sense his frustration and impatience? Did she dismiss it? We were all frustrated and impatient that summer. She was sitting directly behind her husband, the backs of their seats touching. He could have, if he had wanted, reached a hand around his seat to her. Her sister was beside her.

I sometimes mark time now in three-minute intervals. When I am talking on the phone, or walking around the city, or sitting on a plane, I glance at my watch and reflexively mark the time. There is so much that can happen in three minutes. It's enough time to think you can fix things.

I'm sure she was reading magazines. She always took a pile of them because she scanned them quickly and she didn't like to run out. She sounded tired when I spoke to her. Her voice was soft. She was trying to distract herself. We were all trying to distract ourselves. It was a bad day, if you had to choose one, to die. There had not been enough time.

"I love you," she said before she hung up. And then again, "I love you." We always said this to each other, but I didn't want to love anyone that night. I was tired, and I didn't say it back. "I know," I said instead.

You never know when something is going to happen to change your life. You expect it to arrive with fanfare, like a wedding or a birth, but instead it comes in the most ordinary of circumstances. The Roman goddess Fortuna snaps her fingers and changes the channel -- click. I was sitting in a chair, reading, preparing for one death, and then click. It was silent. Was there a noise? I always thought tragedy had a sound. I always thought there was something you would hear. We were holding our breath until Anthony died. Believing that everything else would wait.

Carolyn had a theory about relationships.

"You're much happier when you wait," she used to tell me. "The ones that come to you are the only ones worth anything, Lamb. It's like standing on the shore and spotting something in the water. You can splash around to try to get it, or you can wait and see if the tide brings it in."

I was thinking this while I stood on the shore one day, dreading what the tide would bring. Her makeup bag, a luggage tag.

The weekend before, we were all at the house. She came early in the afternoon, and John flew in later. Effie made a big dinner of grilled fish and roasted potatoes, pie for dessert. John had arranged for him to be there that summer. He cooked for us and maintained our routine -- dialysis in the morning, the beach during the day. A table set for dinner at a planned time each night. We welcomed diversions. We'd have dinner, linger at the table, play Bartlett's if we were up for a game.

We had friends staying for the weekend and we were all sitting in the backyard, waiting for John, and suddenly a plane was right above us. He flew low, buzzing over the house before he landed, a fun thing. He broke up tension. He always knew to. A sort of childish but innocent thing to do, flying over us, dipping the left wing. Just like him. We all looked toward the sky.

"Hey!" We waved. Except Anthony, who just shook his head, a reflex after so many years. Anthony's eye roll and John's sideways smile. I got you, Principe.

"He's here!"

Carolyn looked up, smiling, squinting, her arm in front of her to block the sun.

"He's crazy," someone said, laughing. He brought people to life. He could relax a room, and we counted on him for it. He flew over the house and dropped a dash of exhilaration on the weekend.

I would come to think of it as my summer of tragedy. I was reading love stories, the classics, one after another. You could lose yourself in someone else's heartbreak while you held your breath for your own. I brought a stack of books and piled them in the bedroom next to Lady Chatterley's Lover, which John picked up one day. "Do you see what your wife is reading?" he said to Anthony, shaking his head. "It's worse than I thought." Carolyn was reading Light in August. We had no time for a badly told story.

I wonder if in those last three minutes he called out to her. I have learned that engines sound different at that rate of descent -- a whining noise and much louder as the plane starts into a corkscrew. There was a hard shift to their flight in the last thirty seconds. Did he call out to her, panicked, his voice strained?

Three minutes, one hundred and eighty seconds, is enough time to think through whether he should tell her, and then to struggle with his decision. It is plenty of time to consider who would be waiting for a phone call on the shore. It is the length of an average story on the evening news.

It was a fairly ordinary accident, all in all. The plane dropped neatly into the water after its pilot lost his course. For all the experts, the theories, the newspaper ink, it was a simple crash. A small plane dropping out of an unlit sky.

I was reading Anna Karenina by a light in the living room. The window near me looked out onto a pond, and then farther, to the water where they lay for four days. Their crash didn't disturb a soul, until later. I was sitting comfortably in a room where I had seen them days earlier. In the house where we'd agreed to meet the next evening, before she hung up the phone.

Thirty seconds is what it would have taken me to read a few paragraphs in my book. Thirty seconds and I am completely absorbed in a scene in someone else's story. Thirty seconds, after Anna Karenina's final and fatal decision leaves her kneeling awkwardly on the railroad tracks -- the train a split second away from her inelegant end. It is enough time to become anxious, then calm and then anxious again -- as you might do reading an account of the end of a life. I may have paused once, put a marker in the book, and taken a sip from a glass on the table. This is very likely what I am doing as my best friend rushes to the end of her life, in water visible from the window of the room where I am sitting. Enjoying an unusual moment of quiet calm in an otherwise restless summer.

We dressed for dinner that summer. We'd come in from the beach, take long, cool showers, and slip into floor-length skirts. Long gowns and bare feet. We dressed for dinner every night, and our husbands liked it -- it lifted us up for a moment. We could pretend it was all the way we had once imagined a summer like this -- suntanned shoulders and salty kisses.

Anthony looked thin and small in his bathing suit, his legs knobby like a boy's. His face was strong and handsome.

I was surprised when Carolyn called from the airport. I didn't think she'd be coming. She had mentioned that she might not come. There was a wedding, and we were all doing our best. We were holding our breath, trying to pass time while we waited for Anthony to die. When you're waiting for someone to die, passing time is the cruelest thing to have to do.

She had started a tradition the Christmas before. Christmas dinner, just the four of us. "Every year we'll do it. Don't you think we need a tradition?" she had asked. "Marta will come and cook a big Christmas dinner."

"It sounds great," I replied, caught up in her enthusiasm.

I don't have many things left. What I kept is mostly in boxes now, stored away. You go through what remains and there isn't a lot that is meaningful, except your memories.

There is another scene months before this night. I am with John on this same route. I am his only passenger, and we are flying in the old plane, the one with his father's initials and birthdate on the tail wing -- 529JK. The trip takes one hour and forty-three minutes from the time we park his white convertible in the corner of the lot in Caldwell to the time we touch down on the runway of Martha's Vineyard.

"You slept the whole way!" he says, laughing, when we land.

"Oh, I know," I say. "I'm sorry."

He climbs out and reaches for my hand.

"Don't be," he says. "It's a compliment."

But I am reading a book by the window on a different night, and as his cousins fly up the foggy coastline, my husband sits next to me watching a movie he doesn't care about, then goes to bed. When he wakes up they will be missing.

Once it was the four of us, with all of our dreams and plans, and then suddenly there was nothing.

Copyright © 2005 by Carole Radziwill

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What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 167 reviews.
nickanmaxie More than 1 year ago
I just could not put this book down. I figured that it was a book mostly about John and his wife. BOY WAS I WRONG!!!! This is a love story...an honest one. One reviewer said she wrote in an earthy tone. While I was reading I couldn't figure out the style..but earthy is correct...open and well just great.
Lynnon More than 1 year ago
It is a true testimony of love and friendship, of death and dying, and ultimately, of life! I highly recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been watching this lady on the Housewives show and I can truly say that she is a CLASS ACT. This accounting of her life with her husband Anthony is hands-down, the most touching and poignant remembrance of a man who was deeply loved. I will look at her with much more admiration going forward. Who could have imagined this lady on Real Housewives had endured the kind of pain that would kill a lesser woman? She carries herself with such grace...to Andy Cohen and Bravo TV--you got it right with Carole!! To anyone and everyone who reads this review...do yourself a favor and read this. In a word, BEAUTIFUL. Thank you, Mrs. Radziwill.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Carole Radziwill accomplished something few have been able to. She got me to finish a book. I have always experienced trouble staying interested in a story and have rarely reached the last page of any book. However, I had no problem staying interested in What Remains, in fact I could not read it fast enough. The manner in which Carole writes is enchanting. No detail or feeling is spared. I smiled, grieved and loved along with her through every page. What Remains is a refreshing read, just brilliant.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The little girl from the working class family is on her way to success, the kind she wants and has worked hard pursuing, when she lands a production assistant's job at ABC News. When Carole DiFalco finds herself working on a project for TV news magazine Primetime with Anthony Radziwill, nephew of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, things don't catch fire between them with instantaneous storybook passion. Their love affair begins several years afterward, and it's a gradual, almost casual progression that doesn't make it to the matrimonial altar until after the second of Anthony's many bouts with cancer. The first happened before they met, and he believed himself cured. The third interrupts their just-begun life together immediately after their honeymoon. Five years later, Anthony - a Polish prince by ancestry, as well as a Kennedy cousin - will be dead. The two people on whom he and Carole have relied most during his long illness will die before he does, though and that twist of fate will leave Carole alone in way she couldn't have imagined. That other couple are Anthony's beloved first cousin, John F. Kennedy, Jr. and John's wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, who has long since become Carole's closest and dearest friend. Carole Radziwill is a remarkable writer, because she kept me - the most squeamish of readers, who hates hearing about doctors, hospitals, and medical treatments - turning pages far into the night. Although her book has a slow start, once Anthony's illness takes center stage the tale becomes riveting. By the time she finishes telling it, readers have come to know four remarkable young people - Anthony, Carole, John, and Carolyn - very well, and to care about them very much. It's a heartbreaker as well as a page turner, and a true-life love story written with winning honesty. Whatever this author writes next, I want to read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I must applaud Carole for going through all she did in those 5+ years. Her writing was so good that at times I felt like I was there with her. I would read this book over and over again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldnt put this down. So beautifully written. I knew how it ended but I wanted so badly for it to have a different one. The people lost were so deeply loved and it was a priviledge to get a glimpse in to their world. Heartbreaking and searing. I loved it.
Mildred Dellapina More than 1 year ago
Carole possesses a strength full of love and devotion. I Read this book in 2 days due to it's pages full of an honest depiction of an unfortunate short-lived love story. A compassionate wife and a most dedicated friend; my wish for Carole is a life of peace.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down. I thought it would be just another Kennedy book. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I actually read this book twice, something I seldom (actually never) do. The first time I thought the book was mostly about John and Carolyn Kennedy and Carole Radziwell's relationship with them. However, the second time around, it is mostly about Carole, her life as a journalist, and the battle she and her husband fought with his cancer. She knows how weave an emotional thread. I found myself in a relationship with the people in her life, even Lee Radziwell, about whom there was little written. Ms. Radziwell was able to elevate the characteristics and personalities of those she held in high esteem (such as John and Carolyn Kennedy and her husband) and subtlely paint a picture of control and coldness in those folks she did not particularly care for (must read to see who they are). Again, this is a great book. I know from the housewives of NY she is struggling with her second novel. Probably because her first book was a real account of real people who we all know. The story, more or less unfolded in real life and simply needed to be told. All I can say is I will look forward to the next read, but I'm keeping my expectations in check.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written. Her heart comes through in a non-cloying, real way. Relatable as well. So glad my curiousity because of the Real Housewives caused me to buy this book. I am better for having read this treasure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing, touching, insightful and inspiring.
dhillon820 More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written account of love and heartbreak. A must read for everyone, you will get lost in the story and not want it to end!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw the author on GMA and decided to buy this book. It is beautifully written, she invites you into her personal world, shares personal thoughts and conversations. But her story is not unique or different from others who have had a family member dying of cancer. I wonder if this would have been published and a best seller had she not be married into this famous family. But she falls short on her story. She is in the perfect position to make a difference. She shows us that cancer crosses all socio-economic classes, but never acknowledges it. She shows us that even Dr. Best of the Best doesn't hold the magic wand, that when SHE is armed with the newest information on the Internet or thru resources at ABC on cancer treatment that it is a personal attack on his doctor's clinical expertise, tho she never acknowledges this. She shows us that even if you are privileged to have the BEST view of NYC from the Sonny von Bülow suite, that even the policital clout of Sen. Ted Kennedy, the outcome was still the same, tho she never acknowledges this. Is it quality of life or quantity? Anthony died from complications of his chemotherapy, not actually the cancer. She needs to open up the private struggle of cancer, take away the stigma one assumes when receiving this news for the 1st time. That one must have done something to deserve this personal burden. This story is incomplete and falls short of delivering a message to those less fortunate than she and her husband. Everyone suffers when one is diagnosed with cancer. Doctors have have a hard time communicating death. I hope that the author can make a difference in all of our lives by telling the sequel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The writer conveys, beautifully and courageously, her agony, disbelief, sadness, and outrage in the face of tragedy upon tragedy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was honestly one of the worst written books I have ever read. If it weren't for the famous people who the story surrounds, I doubt there would have been as much interest in this book as there was. It continues to be read because of the author's notoriety on the Housewives of NY. There were a re comments regarding how classy she is - I'm not sure what defines classy, but I don't think the author would be most people's idea of classy. Maybe think of Jacquelien Kennedy.
sas65 More than 1 year ago
I honestly could not but this book down. Her writing was mesmerizing. A beautiful story of growing up, love and loss. So well written, I wish it had not ended. I highly recommend this lovely book...
brathjens More than 1 year ago
I have read many "Kennedy" books and I must say I'm glad I downloaded this one. It was very well written, and I found myself really rooting for Anthony to live through his cancer even though I knew the ending of this story. I'd recommend this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An excellent read! I enjoyed this story very much. As I read this book, I kept coming back to a few thoughts. First, this book only continued to confirm for me how lots of money does not make you happy nor does it spare you from any heartache or realities of life. Second, I don't think Carole wants us to feel sorry for her. I imagine this book was a sort of therapy for her. The ability to tell one's story in a way that speaks from the heart and allows you to feel their emotions is a story very well told. This is one of those very well told stories! This book is very much worth the time it takes to read along with the emotional investment you make into Anthony and Carole's life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book on CD to listen to while I commute every day. It was a little hard to adjust to Carole Radziwell¿s voice, as it is not the normal clear and animated voice that you get accustomed to hearing when listening to books on cd. I do have to say that for her to be reading her own memoir, she lacked the emotion that could have been portrayed so easily for her, and I wish I would have read the book myself. As for the book itself, I loved it. It made me laugh at times, it made me cry several times. However, I did go in to this book thinking that it would be more about her, but it was more about how her husband¿s cancer, and the death of her best friends (and their sister) framed her life in the late 1990's. It¿s a tragic story of love, friendship, and heartbreak. In all, you have to be proud of Carole Radziwell for being a strong woman while dealing with so much throughout her marriage - beginning to end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure that I can write an adequate opinion about this book. It is chock full of feelings as the result of Radziwill's life experiences, and it is sometimes overwhelming reading. Sure, it is about the Kennedy and Radziwill families, but it is also the story of Carol DiFalco. She does a great job of articulating her perspective. You'll not be able to put this book down until you get to the bottom of the last page.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of the most awe-inspiring and touching books I have ever read. It prompted me to pick up the phone and call people to tell them to go get this book. Radziwill's descriptive nature and journalistic eye for detail captured everything. I love the phrase 'tragedy whores'. I read the whole book thinking, the person who read this could be one of my friends.
LibraryL8dy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A poignant and very interesting book about a quite ordinary girl who marries into an extraordinary family. If this wasn't enough to make a great story add the tragic events that surrounded her life - the devastating cancer and ultimate death of her husband and the death of her best friend Carolyn Kennedy and her husband's cousin, John Kennedy Jr. The book reads very easily and you are swept along by the inevitable events. Its one of those stories that even though you know the ending, it keeps you enthralled and entranced until the end.
SigmundFraud on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
moving. i cried at the end. I cry in very few books. Besides this i cried for EAST OF EDEN and a biography of Edith Piaf written by her sister.
readingfiend on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Carole Radziwill, wife of Anthony Radziwill, cousin in law of John Kennedy recounts her relationship and marriage to Anthony and his death from cancer as well as the plane crash of John Kennedy and his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren. Positively heartbreaking for anyone who loves reading about The Kennedys and their family. I thought it showed us Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in a way that's never been seen.