The wife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, she married Greek financier Onassis several years after JFK’s death in 1963. She became a widow the a second time when Onassis died and was again single when she died of cancer in 1994. Due to this status, she was laid to rest next to JFK and their two infant children in Arlington National Cemetery.
IN THE END, she came back. It didn’t matter, anymore, that her name had become the awkward, at first unfamiliar Jacqueline Onassis. It didn’t matter that she’d tried to hide from our hungry curiosity and awed adoration behind the new wealth, the new career, or under the sunglasses and the kerchief.
What mattered on Monday was that the grave of this intensely private woman would be in one of the most public places in America: Arlington National Cemetery, atop a sweetly sloping green hill, near a red-gold sliver of flame, beside the husband with whom she helped create a magic myth and the two babies who also had died too young. What mattered was that we knew who we were burying:
In death, as we had in life, we could make of her what we wanted her to be. Maybe what we needed her to be.
It was somehow exactly right on Monday that the way most of us saw her burial in Arlington Cemetery next to President John F. Kennedy was through the lens of a television camera.
That was how we had come to know her in the first place, as the doe-eyed brunette with the fawn-soft voice guiding us through the White House, as the elegant First Lady in her pillbox hats and white gloves, as the young wife who had perfected the look of smiling adoration at her dashing young resident long before Nancy Reagan appeared on the scene.
At her funeral in New York, the cameras outside St. Ignatius Loyola Church showed us only the somber crowd of spectators on the street. In Arlington, the lens peered down the slope, over the row of clipped bushes and into the granite bowl that Jackie
had helped design as President Kennedy’s gravesite.
The granite bowl is a haunted place, but it isn’t quiet. Birds chitter loudly and full of life in the nearby magnolia trees. The microphones broadcasting her burial service picked them up clearly, along with a few snuffles from the family and friends gathered around what to them is an all-too familiar site.
They had been here to bury Jackie and Jack’s prematurely born son, Patrick Bouvier. Four months later, they buried his father, the nation’s president. A stillborn daughter was brought to lie in what would become a family cemetery for the Kennedys.
Five years later, they buried Robert F. Kennedy, also assassinated. After the burial service for Jackie, many of the mourners stopped to pay their respects at the other graves.
For many, that brief service must have seemed like time had somehow played a strange trick. At the podium a handsome man, John Kennedy Jr., read from the New Testament as a tribute to his mother. We remember him as John-John, a forlorn little figure saluting his father’s casket.
And it was Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the sugar-plum fairy-princess as a girl, who now wore a black veil to lead the mourners in a responsive liturgy from the 121st Psalm.
“I will lift up mine eyes to the hills,” she read. And outside the cemetery’s gates, hundreds of strangers were doing just that. Except they didn’t think of themselves as strangers.
Elizabeth Stephens had spent all night as a college sophomore standing in line to pass by John F. Kennedy’s casket.