During the past half-century, the extended Kennedy clan has lost beloved family members to politically motivated assassinations, suicide, drug overdoses and a plane crash in the Atlantic Ocean.
But a family member said Saturday that the recent deaths by drowning of former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s 40-year-old daughter Maeve McKean and McKean’s 8-year-old son, Gideon, have resulted in a different magnitude of heartbreak.
“We’ve all suffered losses,” Douglas Harriman Kennedy said during an online memorial service Saturday afternoon for his niece and great-nephew.
”We’ve lost fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and daughters. But none of us have lost someone who was Gideon’s age.”
Douglas Kennedy‘s losses include his father, Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated when his youngest son was barely a year old.
He paused, stared down at the ground, and then continued:
“When I learned that Gideon was not alive, I felt, ‘This is wrong. God has made a mistake.' It will never make sense to me to not have Gideon in my life.”
The memorial service was conducted in several locations over the remote video conferencing service Zoom.
Mark Bailey, another of Maeve McKean’s uncles, said that more than 3,000 people attended the virtual memorial service. The family has received condolences from notable figures including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. The singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge performed during the ceremony.
Maeve and Gideon McKean drowned on April 2 while they were self-quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic in an Anne Arundel County home owned by Kennedy Townsend. .
According to Maeve McKean’s husband David, the mother and son had been playing kickball when the large rubber sphere flew into the water. The pair hopped into a canoe to retrieve it, but were pushed by the wind and waves into the open bay.
During the online ceremony, family members sat ashen-faced on chairs facing the camera, and then arose to read a poem, sing a song, pray or share a memory.
”This has been devastating,” said Townsend. Her daughter, she said, was a human rights attorney who ran the Boston Marathon, climbed Mt. Rainier and worked for the Peace Corps in Madagascar. “She always wanted to soar,” her mother said.
Townsend recalled a playground game that Gideon and his sister, Gabriella, named “King Toby,” in honor of their baby brother.
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”The children invented things to please the baby,” Townsend said. “And then when he was happy and giggling, they hoisted him up and marched around the playground chanting ‘King Toby, King Toby,‘ for all to see.”
The memorial service coincided with Kennedy clan matriarch Ethel Kennedy’s 92nd birthday. Speaking from her home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, Ethel Kennedy said she liked to imagine her granddaughter and great-grandson are “happy in heaven with Grandpa.
”You have all my love,” she told family members, “and you’re all in my heart.”
Douglas Kennedy said that though his faith in God’s wisdom might have been temporarily shaken, he was struck that the memorial service was being held on Easter weekend. He describe the Good Friday Mass as the only service of the year not to end with the blessing “go in peace.”
”We’re supposed to leave the church with a sense of something lost and unfinished,” he said.
”But if we really embrace the loss and inexplicableness, if we can stay with the feeling that what just happened doesn’t make any sense, it might turn into something that’s alive.
“Some life will come of it. Maybe even Gideon’s life.”