Teddy’s Goodbye

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Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s funeral at Boston’s Mission Church was a sumptuous affair with incense and tears, communion and Yo-Yo Ma, Placido Domingo and laughter. And a presidential eulogy. The coffin came late and the church sat in reverent silence waiting for Teddy’s arrival. “He would’ve adored it,” said historian Dorris Kearns Goodwin. “You would have heard him bellowing at the end, ‘YAY'” she added pumping her small fist.

John Podesta cried during Ted Kennedy Jr.’s remembrance – as did most of the 1,450 people in attendance. The son recalled, his voice breaking, how, after losing his leg to cancer at the age of 12, he fell in the snow that winter. His father picked him up, “in his big, warm embrace,” and comforted his son. “I can’t do it,” the boy wailed. But he did, together father and son climbed the hill. Kennedy “had such a big heart and they expressed that,” Podesta said. “It was lovely and befitting.”

Republicans mingled with Democrats as most – if not all – of the Senate attended, even Roland Burris. “It was very powerful and beautiful, especially the speeches of the two sons,” said Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican. “Clearly partisanship is very aside today.” Will Kennedy’s death soften Lugar on health care? “Today is a day to set aside our usual work, important as it is,” Lugar said, pausing. He said he listened carefully to the “testimony of Teddy’s loved ones and participants and they made a compelling case for health care on his behalf.”

Indeed, Teddy Kennedy III read a prayer for the faithful that reminded the audience of his grandfather’s promise last summer to “guarantee that every American — north, south, east, west, young, old — will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.”

His father Ted Jr. started his speech on a lighter note recalling little known facts about his dad (he was once recruited by the Green Bay Packers), family vacations (left us all injured and exhausted) and political lessons (he taught me many things, even how to like Republicans) before reminding the audience that his father’s work was not yet complete. “Though he live a full and complete life by any measure the fact is he wasn’t done. He had more to finish,” and then, rushing through the words before he lost his composure, he quoted his father’s 1980 presidential concession speech. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

President Obama hailed his former mentor as the “soul of the Democratic Party.” But the most poignant moment of the eulogy came at the end, where talking about how Kennedy wrote every 9/11 widow in his state every year, Obama quoted one of them.

To one widow, he wrote the following:

“As you know so well, the passage of time never really heals the tragic memory of such a great loss, but we carry on, because we have to, because our loved one would want us to, and because there is still light to guide us in the world from the love they gave us.”

We carry on.

Ted Kennedy has gone home now, guided by his faith and by the light of those he has loved and lost.  At last he is with them once more, leaving those of us who grieve his passing with the memories he gave, the good he did, the dream he kept alive, and a single, enduring image – the image of a man on a boat; white mane tousled; smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for what storms may come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon.  May God Bless Ted Kennedy, and may he rest in eternal peace.

Milling out, Senator Max Baucus couldn’t help recalling Kennedy’s pen pal relationship with the Montana Senator’s mother. Kennedy called late one night looking for Baucus and Baucus’s mother answered. An instant friendship sprang up between the two and for years afterward Kennedy would show Baucus letters he was writing to Baucus’ mother. Kennedy even sent Ma Baucus an oil painting of a young Teddy riding a bronco in Montana during the 1960 campaign – a painting that still hangs in Mrs. Baucus’ living room. “It was typical Ted,” Baucus said, smiling and shaking his head.

Will Kennedy’s death affect the health care talks? “I sure hope so,” Baucus said, looking like a man in dire need of a stiff drink. “I’ll use anything, take anything I can get because we need it.”