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Death in the Kennedy family: A graceful goodbye in tragic times

Jamie Stiehm on

I know the place where they got lost on the water. Shady Side was in my mind's eye through the mother and son's celebration of life gathering, with 3,000 in the Zoom ether. The Kennedy family pioneered a new form of mourning amid the pandemic.

First, from South Africa came a song with a promise, "We're together in spirit." For this we prayed.

The 21st-century congregation witnessed remembrances, elegies, poetry and music from various living rooms. "Lord of the Dance" summoned the Irish soul.

Starkly personal, the form meant nobody got lost in the crowd.

Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, a vibrant blue-eyed 40-year-old, and her boy hopped into a canoe to chase a ball. Something Kennedys do. But on that April afternoon, the wind and waves swept them into the wide Chesapeake Bay between Maryland and Virginia shores. Then they were gone.

It had all the makings of a Greek tragedy. Maeve was a global health expert, what America needs right now. In her 20s, she volunteered for the Peace Corps.

 

That's the Peace Corps her great-uncle President John F. Kennedy founded, which President Donald Trump just "fired." For her work, she traveled the world, to Haiti and Bangladesh. But it was outside her mother's house that one of four sisters vanished. Irrepressible like Jo in "Little Women."

Gideon was 8. He once sped down an Olympic ski slope. He was Robert F. Kennedy's great-grandson -- or "Grandpa Bobby."

To hear tell, Gideon inherited a compass of social justice in play among tearstained friends and cousins. They swore they'd always love him, never forget him. The children's camera montage was charming. "Ball" was Gideon's first word.

Nobody needed to say how Bobby Kennedy's light shone in the tumult of the late '60s. He wept when he witnessed Mississippi poverty. He calmed a crowd in Indiana the cruel night of Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder in April 1968, giving the speech of his life -- quoting Aeschylus, the Greek tragedian.

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