It was May, 1994, when I was coming home through Central Park, wondering why there were so many news trucks along Fifth Avenue.
I had yet to learn, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, better known to the world, as just Jackie, had come home to die.
She had been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for almost a year assuming she’d recover. When she learned it had gotten worse without a chance of that happening, she made the decision to call it a day.
I’ve often wondered how that must have been for someone like her who lived such an amazing life, now choosing to leave it.
I wandered into the grocer’s where Harry, the produce man, told me Mrs. Kennedy, as she was always called, just received the last rites, according to her longtime cook, not expected to live through the night.
The whole neighborhood was shocked and saddened since, though we didn’t see her often, she was still a member of our little community. All the shopkeepers knew her, from Stanley Lobel the butcher, to Timmy the florist who said, no one was as kind and courteous as Mrs. Kennedy. They also knew Caroline and John since they were kids.
I remember how quiet the streets were as we all waited while a shrine of flowers flourished in front of her home. People, young and old, solemnly held vigil behind police barricades as reporters stationed, on all corners, whispered to the world, also waiting.
Family members, Ted Kennedy and Jackie’s sister Lee, nieces and nephews arrived along with her close friends, to say their farewells to a woman who symbolized elegance and grace like no other.
How can anyone forget her courage in November 1963, holding the country up by it’s heartstrings, walking behind her husband’s casket, flanked by his two remaining brothers.
When her beloved son came down to say she had passed, it was hard not to remember that little boy his mother taught to salute, as his dad’s coffin mewled by when he was barely 3. Here he was, the best of both of them, to tell us, his mom was no more.
“Last night, at around 10:15, my mother passed on. She was surrounded by her friends and family, and her books and the people and the things that she loved. And she did it in her way, and we all feel lucky for that.”
I cried along with everyone knowing an era had passed, picking up a stray rose, pressing it to my heart.
In her brother-in-law’s poignant eulogy, Ted Kennedy said…”No one else looked liked her, spoke like her, wrote like her, or was as original in the way she did things. No one had a better sense of self.”