Final Days

For a while it seemed Jackie would conquer cancer in the same way she had overcome all the other obstacles and challenges in her life. During her treatment, Maurice became her constant companion. He tended to her at home and accompanied her on walks through her beloved Central Park. In April, they were photographed strolling through the park on a warm spring afternoon. The scarf and trench coat she wore contrasted starkly with the shirtsleeves worn by others in the shot. Although thinner than usual, Jackie appeared alert and animated.

On April 14, Jackie's health took a sudden, dramatic downward turn. She collapsed at home and was rushed to the hospital where doctors repaired bleeding ulcers, a complication from her chemotherapy. Doctors also discovered the cancer had spread to her lungs. Within weeks Jackie began suffering terrible pain in her legs and arms. She also went through moments of confusion, a sign the disease had now spread to her brain. She went back to the hospital yet again, this time so doctors could insert a tube into her brain to relieve pressure and to administer drugs.

The cancer kept spreading. Before long her speech and gait were affected. On the evening of May 15, Jackie developed an excruciating headache. Maurice checked her into New York Hospital, where she was treated for pneumonia. Doctors also performed another scan, which showed the cancer had moved into her liver and she was experiencing kidney failure.

There was nothing medical science could do for her except prolong the inevitable. Jackie faced death the same way she had lived life: on her own terms. She refused any more treatment and went home to spend her final days with John, Caroline, and Maurice by her side day and night.

Nancy Tuckerman, acting as official family spokesperson, announced that Jackie's cancer had progressed and that she would not seek any further treatment because it would be futile. Jackie also refused antibiotics for her pneumonia. Jackie was dying; the only question was when the end would come.

As the street in front of her building filled with strangers holding a silent, respectful vigil, her closest friends were summoned to 1040 for a final farewell. Ted Kennedy flew to New York, as did other family members. Jackie arranged for her priest, Monsignor George Bardes of St. Thomas More Church, to administer last rites while she was still conscious. He also her heard her final confession. Soon afterward, she slipped into a coma.

FACT

The sacrament of Last Rites is a Catholic ritual for the dying. It is administered in three steps: first, the priest hears the person's last confession. Next he performs the Anointing of the Sick. Last is Viaticum — final Communion. Viaticum is the Latin word for “provision for the journey.”

At approximately 10:15 P.M. on May 19, 1994, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died. Her children and Maurice were at her bed-side. John Jr. reported she passed on “surrounded by her friends and her family and her books, and the people and things that she loved.”

SHE SAID …

“I'm almost glad it [the cancer] happened because it's given me a second life. I laugh and enjoy things so much more…. But even if I only have five years left, so what? I've had a great run.”

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