A Family Gathers to Say Farewell to Ted Kennedy

A Family Gathers to Say Farewell to Ted Kennedy

Simon Sousa, shell shocked and bleary eyed, stood on a grassy corner near the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. He clutched a 8″x10″ framed and signed photo of himself with Senator Ted Kennedy, a memento from when Kennedy had helped his Brazilian house cleaner get a green card two years ago. He planted a few tiny American flags and he says he may drive to Boston for the funeral on Saturday. “I do not understand, he seemed okay yesterday morning,” says Sousa, 40, who has cleaned Kennedy’s home here every two weeks for the last six years. “I was so surprised to hear he passed. Just yesterday I heard him walking and talking on the second floor” of the vacation home the Kennedy family has owned since then 1920’s.

This is where Kennedy had spent much of his time after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor 15 months ago. He died surrounded by his wife and children and other family members who bid him loving and tearful goodbyes, according to Rev. Patrick Tarrant, who was with the family at the time. Since his death, relatives have taken turns sitting vigil by his body as the Kennedy clan — all 23 nieces and nephews, his wife Victoria of 17 years and his three children — gathered for his wake and funeral. It is the second time in two weeks the clan has descended on Hyannis Port; earlier this month Kennedy’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver was laid to rest here.

All day long vans crammed with flower arrangements streamed past the TV cameras that spanned two blocks, even though the family specifically asked that in lieu of flowers well wishers donate money to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The facility houses an extensive collection of Kennedy’s papers — almost all handwritten — and is dedicated to educating senators, staff and the general public about the role and importance of the Senate, where Kennedy served 46 years.

Though his life-long goal had been to achieve universal health care, Kennedy’s illness prevented him from spearheading the most recent round of negotiations. But he was the man behind the curtain, working from his sick bed to boost higher education funding, weighing in on nominations that passed through his committee — the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — and above all, helping shape health care reform strategy. “All of these things weren’t accidental,” said Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry, a close Kennedy friend, leaving the compound Wednesday. “Ted Kennedy’s strategy and his design and his purposeful effort [were] to continue to serve. From the moment he got sick he was not worried about himself, he was worried about: How do I continue to do this job and represent the people of Massachusetts”

In the final days, Kennedy was often seen on his porch talking on the phone, sometimes passionately, or even sailing with friends and colleagues on his 50-foot, blue-hulled schooner, the Mya. The day of his death was a perfect day for sailing, sunny and blustery with a few white caps on the bay the compound overlooks. Flags around the tiny Cape Cod town were at half-mast. On Thursday Kennedy’s body will be taken by motorcade to a maple-paneled room at his brother’s presidential library in Dorchester for a wake. The body will be open to public viewing Thursday and Friday at the John F. Kennedy Library’s Smith Center, which has a stunning view of Boston’s skyline. Friday night the family will hold a private celebration of the man the family, in a statement, called “the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives.” Vice President Joe Biden, among others, is expected to speak. On Saturday another motorcade will bear Kennedy across Boston to the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the Mission Hill section of Boston. It was in this church, commonly known as Mission Church, that Kennedy prayed daily for his daughter Kara when she was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. Here, Kennedy’s funeral will be held for an invitation-only crowd of 1,450. President Barack Obama is expected to interrupt his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to speak. Kennedy’s body will then be flown to Washington, D.C., where, in a private ceremony, he will be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, next to his brothers President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

For now, friends and neighbors left flowers in a small impromptu shrine at the edge of the Kennedy property. “Things will change a lot,” says James Quinn, 34, a general contractor whose family has lived across the street from the Kennedy’s for more than 60 years. “I saw him a few times the last few months, throwing the ball for Splash, his dog, or out and about. But sightings were getting rarer and rarer. I hope he’s in a better place. He gave his whole life to politics. He just seemed to work for the people up to his last day. He was the last of Camelot.”

See TIME’s complete Ted Kennedy coverage.