As I sat over the past 48 hours or so and watched the media coverage of the extraordinary life of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, something struck me as being unfair: What about the former Mrs. Edward Kennedy -- Joan Bennett Kennedy?
I don't mean any disrespect whatsoever toward the current Mrs. Ted Kennedy, but I was a bit put off today at the Memorial service in the Boston Church that no-one in their eulogy mentioned that Joan was there for the late Senator and her children through the "worst of times." The first wife usually is.
The challenge for me in all of this is not that Vicky Reggie Kennedy did not deserve all of the kudos she got for "saving Ted's life' -- she does, but that the first wife, Joan Bennett (who was quietly present at the Memorial services today) deserves a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T too. Let us not forget that like Ethel and Jackie before her, she was there through the first Senate campaign, the airplane crash that landed her husband bed-ridden (as she campaigned for him all through Massachusetts and helped him win an impressive victory), the horrific death of JFK, the tragic death of RFK, the stroke of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Chappaquidick, the womanizing, the drinking, the challenges to the health of their children, the 1980 campaign against Carter, and on and on.
Joan is probably the most unfortunate of all the Kennedy wives, because at least Jackie and Ethel (for all they endured) are loved and revered in our political and social pop culture. The images of the two young grieving widows are indelibly etched in our American conscience forever.
But what about Joan? Where does she fit into all of this?
I think she deserves an encore. She was loyal, she was faithful, she endured, she supported, she loved, she gave, she suffered, she wept, she was humiliated at times, broken at times, yet, through it all, she gets little of the credit for being the woman in the "arena" with the Lion of the Senate.
In the final analysis, I admire Ted Kennedy's life story. For all of his flaws and weaknesses -- failings -- he understood well the concept of perseverance and of "moving forward" no matter what cards life may deal us. As for Joan, I just felt that someone today needed to say "thank you" Joan for being the wind beneath Ted's wings for the first part of his life's journey. Thank you for your brave battle with alcoholism and for your love of your children. Lastly, thank you for having the class and grace to sit through a Memorial Service today in honor of your late husband -- a service that had to be hard for you as you once loved this man and gave him three (3) children. It could not have been easy to listen to another woman get all of the praise and kudos -- and be called "the love of Ted's life" after you were so loyal and true.
So I say thank you Joan Kennedy for all you did. May God grant you peace and joy in the twilight years of your life.
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