My neighborhood was more solemn than I had ever seen it, as we waited for some news. They had brought her home from Memorial Sloan Kettering after she made the decision when her doctors wanted to treat her for pneumonia. She had had so much treatment already for her cancer, what was the point I guess, knowing she was at the end of the line, a place you’d never expect her to be.
I write often about her, Jacqueline Kennedy’s mystique being eternal.
I can still see the throng of people who stood outside her home at 1040 Fifth Avenue holding a vigil. I recall two things, the shrine that was left, and how silent everyone was.
Police put up a barricade that wasn’t really needed, because if nothing else, Jackie taught us how to be appropriate.
I went to the little gourmet store across from my house, and Harry the produce man, with tears in his eyes said, “They just gave Mrs. Onassis the last rites.”
Her long time cook, his long time customer, had just come in to tell him.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, yet was, thinking maybe she’d rally one more time. I walked to The Church of Saint Thomas More, where she brought her kids when they were small, to light candles. This is when Catholicism, alive or lapsed, comes in handy, its rituals comforting.
The press were out in droves. The imminent passing of our most famous, venerable First Lady, was big news.
An array of Kennedys, her sister Lee, friends like Bunny Mellon and Carly Simon, came to say good-bye. I’ve read about it so many times I feel I was there.
How she dressed in something she loved, wrapping a scarf around her head before climbing into bed for the last time. Gregorian chants mewled in the background, while her kids and loyal companion, Maurice, took turns sitting by her bedside.
Bunny Mellon, her best friend, sat across the room saying the rosary.
Mrs. Kennedy told John and Caroline exactly what she wished service wise, encouraging them, after taking whatever they wanted of hers, to sell the rest. They’d make a fortune, she said, and they did, enough to pay a very hefty inheritance tax.
She had already burned many of her personal letters, something I understand. Privacy, even at the end, meant the world to her.
I remember only being 9 when JFK died, watching the funeral on our brand new, RCA Vista TV set. Even as a kid, seeing her lead all the dignitaries on foot behind her husband’s casket is etched in my mind forever. Somehow I felt, the pomp and circumstance wrapped in solemnity, is what she deserved as well.
Peggy Noonan said it best.
“She was one sweet and austere tune. Her family arranged a private funeral, and that of course is what she’d want and that is what is fitting. But I know how I wish she would be buried.
I wish we could take her, in the city she loved or the capital she graced, and put a flag on her coffin and the coffin on a catafalque, and march it down a great avenue, with an honor guard and a horse that kicks, as Black Jack did, and muffled drums. I wish we could go and honor her, those of us who were children when she was in the White House, and our parents who wept that weekend long ago, and our children who have only a child’s sense of who and what she was. I wish we could stand on the sidewalk as the caisson passes, and take off our hat, and explain to our sons and daughters and say, “That is a patriot passing by.” I wish I could see someone’s little boy, in a knee-length coat, lift his arm and salute.”
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis July 28, 1929 – May 18, 1994
We remember her.