Private grief long shared by public

A familiar ritual expected as family plans quiet services

July 22, 1999|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

The son who saluted his father's casket, and years later gently kissed the one bearing his mother, will himself be memorialized tomorrow morning at a New York City church.

A Mass for John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, will be offered at 11 a.m. at the Church of St. Thomas More on Manhattan's Upper East Side. A memorial service for Lauren Bessette, the third victim in Friday's plane crash, will be held Saturday night at Christ Church in Greenwich, Conn.

President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton are among those expected to attend the service at St. Thomas More, a 350-seat church that Kennedy's late mother attended.

Few details were released about the services, which will be private.

But the public will surely follow the proceedings -- either from outside the church on East 89th Street or through news media coverage.

It is by now a familiar ritual, the Kennedy family gathering for a funeral in which their private grief is shared by the public. From the stunned nation that watched the grainy television coverage of President John F. Kennedy's funeral three days after his assassination in 1963, to the people in small towns who lined the railroad tracks five years later as Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's body was carried to Washington, to the onlookers who crowded outside a New York church during Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's funeral in 1994, the public has been part of the funeral proceedings of this storied family.

"These services have a very significant role, which is closure," said Frank Mankiewicz, a family friend who served as press secretary to Robert Kennedy and helped plan his funeral. "It's a little bit like letting everyone throw a shovel of dirt."

President Kennedy's funeral remains a potent memory for those who lined the procession route in Washington or followed it on their black-and-white TVs. The images still sear: the riderless horse that followed the casket, the veiled widow who remained stoic throughout even as a nation broke down and, of course, the 3-year-old son saluting the passing cortege.

It was the president's widow who had orchestrated the public spectacle: She dispatched an aide to the Library of Congress to research Abraham Lincoln's funeral. She requested an eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery. And when the precise moment came, she coaxed her son to step forward and salute. "The funeral was a piece of elaborate pageantry, and it helped the country get through a devastating event," said historian William

Manchester. "She knew exactly what needed to be done in this time of national grief."

Five years ago, when Onassis died of cancer, it would be the task of her children, John Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, to plan the services.

"Three things came to mind," John Kennedy said of how he and his sister began planning the funeral. "They were her love of words, the bonds of home and family, and her spirit of adventure."

At the funeral Mass at St. Ignatius Loyola in New York, where Onassis had been baptized and confirmed, John and Caroline read scripture and poetry, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy offered a eulogy. Although the service was private, a crowd of about 1,000 people gathered outside the church.

The Mass was followed by burial at Arlington National Cemetery, where services were conducted by retired Archbishop Philip J. Hannan, who had also officiated at President Kennedy's burial. At the gravesite, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg's composure broke a bit; her brother remained stoic, kissing his mother's casket and then lightly touching his father's grave marker.

Now it falls to Schlossberg and other family members to plan services for John Kennedy.

While little information about the funeral was available yesterday, it is sure to strike an emotional note among many who have been touched by the deaths of Kennedy, his wife and sister-in-law, and have been leaving flowers at various impromptu shrines after the disappearance of their plane Friday night.

Last night, the USS Briscoe, a Navy destroyer, was headed toward Martha's Vineyard for the burial at sea.

The USS John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier cruising the Atlantic off Virginia, is expected to observe a moment of silence either during the burial at sea or tomorrow's Mass.

Tonight, a New York church will open its doors to anyone who would like to attend a memorial Mass for the three victims. Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in lower Manhattan will hold its memorial at 6 p.m.

The Bessette family requested that, in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Carolyn Bessette Kennedy's name to Kids in Crisis at 1 Salem St., Cos Cob, Conn. 06878.

Contributions in Lauren Bessette's name may be made to the Lauren G. Bessette Foundation, C/O Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Corporate Communications, 121 Avenue of the Americas, 26th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10020.

"All donations will be used to help other young people receive some of the support, caring and friendship that each of our children was so fortunate to receive in their lives," the sisters' family said in a public statement.


People wishing to send condolences to the Kennedy family may mail them to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's office at 315 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510.

People may also sign condolence books at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, and at the John F. Kennedy National Historic Site in Brookline, Mass.

The condolence books will be given to Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg to share with the family of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and Lauren Bessette, then returned to the library's archives, said Kennedy Library spokesman Tom McNaught.

Pub Date: 7/22/99

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