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Jackie Kennedy Onassis: Model for Mothers of Loss/ May 2015


Twenty-one years is significant because it symbolically represents the amount of time we have with our children before they are on their own. My oldest daughter, on the brink of turning 21, causes me to think this anniversary of Jackie Kennedy's death is a poignant one for she had no years with her stillborn baby.
           Today, May 19th, marks the 21st anniversary of the death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Throughout the world, Jackie Kennedy is a famous woman.  But few recall a baby girl named Arabella who was stillborn on August 23, 1956. It was Arabella who made Jackie a mother. Many may look up to Jackie for her grace, beauty and poise during difficult times, however, my looking up to her and remembering her on this anniversary is quite a different form of admiration.

Jackie died the year my first daughter, Elizabeth, was born. Already we shared something in common because at that point I had suffered a miscarriage and so had she.   After giving birth to a daughter and son just like Jackie had, my third child, Margaret Minehart Worgan, was stillborn on August 13, 1997.

Forty-one years before this, Jackie began her family.  After having Caroline and then JFK Junior, Jackie gave birth to Patrick on August 9th, 1963 only to give him over to the heavens two days later because he suffered from Respiratory Distress Syndrome.  Today many people know about her devastating loss of Patrick, but what many may not know is that before she had Caroline, Jackie lost her first child, a daughter, who, had she lived, would have been named Arabella. 

 All Jackie’s and Jack’s hopes and dreams were unrealized as they buried their small infant girl in the ground. To bear such grief in an era when one was not encouraged to go to grief counseling, where no books were written on the subject except those pertaining to grief in general,  where one could not find online support services, and where one had to keep up a positive public persona, must have been truly difficult.  It was not until the 1980s that parents of stillborns in the USA were encouraged to name or hold their babies or to carry out a funeral service, but Jackie and Jack buried Arabella. 

After the death of Arabella, Jackie forged on out of love and necessity. She became First Lady, and birthed Caroline and JFK Junior.

Soon after she birthed Patrick he was buried next to his sister, Arabella.  It is noted in the biography, As We Remember her  by Carol Sferrazza Anthony that Jackie took some time away to grieve after Patrick but that upon her return Jack told her it was important for the White house to show a happy face.

Just a little over three months after losing Patrick, Jackie lost her husband. Still, somehow she forged on.  She went on to be a private but very present mother and grandmother as well as to create a successful career in editing.

On this day that marks the anniversary of her death, it is important to note that various obituaries mention her son, Patrick, but I would like to add a foot note to her obit: Her first child, Arabella, was stillborn. Later, after the death of JFK, Arabella and Patrick were moved next to JFK at Arlington cemetery.  Jackie loved all of her children and modeled for all of us that it is okay to acknowledge our loss as well as to find ways to channel our grieving energy and move on like she so gracefully did.

Arabella was the one who prepared her for motherhood. Jackie felt Arabella grow and kick inside her pregnant body, and Jackie decorated a nursery; one that would remain empty after Arabella was born.   As a peer counselor, I often work with moms who lose their first child. The surreal pain of carrying a baby for months, delivering the baby with stroller, car seat and diapers ready, but then having no baby to take home from the hospital, is difficult for others to grasp or to know how to support, yet, these women are mothers, just as Jackie was the moment she birthed Arabella.

When I was born, my mother’s fourth child, she ritualistically counted my fingers and toes and then a few weeks later took me to the pediatrician. He said “Her eyes are very far apart but just enough that she will look like Jackie O.” Many who know me may think Jackie O and I share mothering, a love of good literature and poetry, and far apart eyes but what we really share is our eternal love for all of our children. All moms have a special place in their hearts for each of their children whether their child lives or dies.  Arabella opened Jackie’s mothering heart.  On this anniversary of your death, Jackie, I hope that you may heavenly hold three of your four children and look down upon Caroline.