by J. Randy Taraborrelli
In July 1964, Jackie Kennedy visited her mother and stepfather, Janet and Hugh Auchincloss, at the family’s homestead, Hammersmith Farm in Newport. She was suffering greatly. It had been just eight months since she witnessed the murder of her husband, John F. Kennedy, in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Because she couldn’t sleep, Jackie would drag herself down to the family room in the middle of the night and set up her easel in a corner. She’d open the French windows and allow the cold bay air to flood the room, wrapping herself in a robe for warmth. She’d then begin to paint, using her watercolors until about four in the morning. Exhausted, she’d then go back up to her room at about four-thirty. Maybe she would sleep with the help of tranquilizers. Most likely, she wouldn’t.
One afternoon during this visit, Jackie dragged herself down to the beach to join Janet and her son (Jackie’s half-brother), Jamie Auchincloss, under an umbrella. She looked dreadful, medicated, and hungover. Janet was as annoyed as she was worried. “Jacqueline,” she began—and this is according to Jamie’s memory of the conversation—“we’ve all lost Jack, but it’s been eight months! You have to snap out of it.” Janet then reached for her daughter’s hand and said, “The only way you’ll ever get through this thing is to start living your life again in a normal fashion. Do we have an understanding?” Jamie recalled, “Jackie was a little startled. She blinked a few times and said, ‘Thank you, Mummy.”
Later, Jackie said of that moment, “I needed to get on with things and Mummy knew it. How remarkable. How remarkable is that?”
But after just eight months, she was expected to get over it?
We now know that Jackie was suffering from PTSD. Because the psychological condition wasn’t as widely understood in 1964 as it is today, her well-meaning mother should be forgiven for her glib advice. Truly, in the Bouvier/Auchincloss/Kennedy families, the way forward after tragedy was with a stiff upper lip. In my new book, Jackie: Public, Private, Secret, I explain, however, that Jackie continued to suffer psychological torment about JFK’s murder even after intense therapy in the 1970s with Dr. Marianne Kris. (I also reveal that Dr. Kris was the same psychiatrist who’d had Marilyn Monroe committed to a psychiatric facility in 1961, a weird irony considering JFK’s brief affair with the film star.)
One of the reasons I wanted to write about Jackie’s lifelong struggle was to illustrate her strength, not her weakness. In her final weeks in 1994 while she battled cancer, her trusted friend, the famed architect John Carl Warnecke, asked her if she had any regrets. She wished she could say she had none. However, she said, “If we’re honest, we all wish we’d done things differently.”
Among any regrets, she said there was one big one: she wished she hadn’t let November of ‘63 poison the rest of her life. “But that’s not what happened,” Jack said, surprised. He said she had gone on after Dallas and, in fact, had even thrived. “But I never got over it,” Jackie insisted, according to Jack’s memory, “I got past it maybe, but never over it.”
Looking back, she wished she’d been able to put the assassination aside entirely and live her life to the fullest, just as her mother had wanted. “What a shame, “ she told Jack, “to spend so much time tormented by a thing I could never change.” Then again, Jackie mused, maybe that’s what JFK deserved—for her to never really get over it. All she knew for certain was that she was still conflicted. She was also sure she could work it all out, if only she had, as she put it, “ten good years.”
Imagine it. Even at the end, after battling her demons for more than thirty years, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis still felt she could persevere, if only she had a little more time. Indeed, her fighting spirit persisted all the way to the very end.
And how remarkable is that?
J. Randy Taraborrelli is the author of 20 biographies, most of which have become New York Times bestsellers, including: Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot; After Camelot: A Personal History of the Kennedy Family 1968 to the Present, which was adapted as a mini-series for Reelz; and Jackie, Janet & Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill, which he is adapting for television