Scenes From a Funeral
After a half century of seeing Kennedys up close and reporting their history, watching Ted Kennedy’s funeral prompts renewed wonder about the complexity of American fame.
President Obama’s eulogy, eloquent as always, was after all the tribute of someone who has known Ted Kennedy for only a few years, graciously lauding him as “a Happy Warrior” and “a kind and tender hero.”
His words were part of a much larger tableau, the sense of how love and conflict, wealth and ambition, personal failings and the search for redemption play out across generations of a public family.
The weekend’s celebration was graciously orchestrated by Ted Kennedy’s second wife, Vicki, who saved him when his personal and political fortunes were at low ebb in the early 1990s.
There was only a passing mention of his first wife, Joan, mother of his children, a stunningly beautiful woman who wrote about her chronic alcoholism for me in McCalls before their divorce in the 1970s and, of course, none at all of Chappaquiddick, which in 1969 marred the legend of Camelot and ruined the chances of another Kennedy in the White House.
Fittingly enough, an unspoken theme in that church today was atonement, and Ted Kennedy’s most impressive advocates were his sons, Ted Jr., telling how his father’s relentless devotion carried him through the loss of a leg to cancer and Patrick, still visibly shaky from addiction, testifying to the healing power of paternal love.