Your two letters, my dear friend, of Aug. 31. & Sep. 9. reached me on the 9th. & 31st. of October. I had already learned through other channels the melancholy event they announced. be assured I deeply felt for your situation: but on this subject I will not say one word; experience in the same school having taught me that time alone can mitigate what nothing can remedy.
To Elizabeth House Trist, November 23, 1804
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Compassionate leaders acknowledge loss … then shut up.
Jefferson met Trist (1751-1828) when he roomed at her mother’s boarding house during his congressional service in the early 1780s. They remained friends throughout their lives.
Trist’s two letters announced the death of her only child. The year before, the President appointed that son as tax collector for the lower Mississippi River. She moved with him and his family to New Orleans. A promising future for the healthy young man was wiped out in five days when he contracted yellow fever.
Jefferson had endured the death of five of his six children, most recently his daughter Maria just seven months earlier. He knew the torment of his good friend and acknowledged her loss. He would say no more, knowing that “time alone can mitigate [lessen]” her sorrow, which would always be with her.