Kennedy was determined to make 'good ending'
From the time he was diagnosed, he spoke of making most of his time left
Saying goodbye to Sen. Ted Kennedy
Aug. 26: NBC's Brian Williams reports from the home of the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., where the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy early Wednesday morning brought an end to an epic era in American politics.
The Massachusetts senator is remembered in tributes in his home state and Washington, D.C.
By Mark Leibovich
updated 9:41 p.m. PT, Wed., Aug 26, 2009
WASHINGTON - The once-indefatigable Ted Kennedy was in a wheelchair at the end, struggling to speak and sapped of his energy. But from the time his brain cancer was diagnosed 15 months ago, he spoke of having a “good ending for myself,” in whatever time he had left, and by every account, he did.
As recently as a few days ago, Mr. Kennedy was still digging into big bowls of mocha chip and butter crunch ice creams, all smushed together (as he liked it). He and his wife, Vicki, had been watching every James Bond movie and episode of “24” on DVD.
He began each morning with a sacred rite of reading his newspapers, drinking coffee and scratching the bellies of his beloved Portuguese water dogs, Sunny and Splash, on the front porch of his Cape Cod house overlooking Nantucket Sound.
If he was feeling up to it, he would end his evenings with family dinner parties around the same mahogany table where he used to eat lobster with his brothers.
He took phone calls from President Obama , house calls from his priest and — just a few weeks ago — crooned after-dinner duets of “You Are My Sunshine” (with his son Patrick) and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” (with Vicki).
“There were a lot of joyous moments at the end,” said Dr. Lawrence C. Horowitz, Mr. Kennedy’s former Senate chief of staff, who oversaw his medical care. “There was a lot of frankness, a lot of hugging, a lot of emotion.”
Obviously, Dr. Horowitz added, there were difficult times. By this spring, according to friends, it was clear that the tumor had not been contained; new treatments proved ineffective and Mr. Kennedy’s comfort became the priority.
But interviews with close friends and family members yield a portrait of a man who in his final months was at peace with the end of his life and grateful for the chance to savor the salty air and the company of loved ones.
Befitting the epic life he led, Mr. Kennedy was the protagonist of a storybook finale from the time of his diagnosis in May 2008. It was infused with a beat-the-clock element: his illness coincided with the debate over health care (“the cause of my life”) and the election of a young president he championed.
Mr. Kennedy raced to complete his legislative work and his memoirs (“I’ve got to get this right for history,” he kept saying), leaned heavily on his faith, enjoyed (or endured) a procession of tributes and testimonials and just recently petitioned Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts to push for a speedy succession so his Senate seat would not be vacant long.
The knowledge that his death was approaching infused Mr. Kennedy’s interactions with special intensity, his friends say.
“He was the only one of the Kennedy boys who had a semi-knowledge that his end was near,” said Mike Barnicle , the former Boston Globe columnist and an old friend who lives nearby on Cape Cod and visited the senator this summer. “There was no gunman in the shadows, just an M.R.I. It was a bad diagnosis, but it allowed for the gift of reflection and some good times.”
Even as Mr. Kennedy’s physical condition worsened over the summer, he still got out of bed every day until Tuesday, when he died in the evening, said Senator Christopher J. Dodd , Democrat of Connecticut and one of Mr. Kennedy’s closest friends in the Senate.
“I’m still here,” Mr. Kennedy would call colleagues out of the blue to say, as if to refute suggestions to the contrary. “Every day is a gift,” was his mantra to begin conversations, said Peter Meade, a friend who met Mr. Kennedy as a 14-year-old volunteer on Mr. Kennedy’s first Senate campaign.
Some patients given a fatal diagnosis succumb to bitterness and self-pity; others try to cram in everything they have always wanted to do (sky-diving, a trip to China). Mr. Kennedy wanted to project vigor and a determination to keep on going. He chose what he called “prudently aggressive” treatments.
“He always admired people who took risks, like Teddy and Kara did,” Mr. Dodd said, referring to two of Mr. Kennedy’s children, who both beat cancer with bold treatments. And he vowed to work as hard as he could to lead a legislative overhaul of the nation’s health care system.
“He was the irrepressible Ted Kennedy,” said Senator John Kerry , the Massachusetts Democrat, who visited with his longtime colleague last week. “He was determined to get things done, but he also understood he had limitations.”
Mr. Kennedy deputized Dr. Horowitz, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, to research all treatment options before deciding on an intensive regimen of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — hardly a clear-cut choice with an almost inevitably lethal disease and a patient of Mr. Kennedy’s age. Some physicians assembled at Massachusetts General Hospital considered his tumor inoperable — and measured his likely survival time between six weeks and a few months.
Before he traveled by private plane from Cape Cod to Duke University Medical Center for his surgery in June 2008, Mr. Kennedy made sure to put his affairs in order — his will, his medical directives and even his legislative instructions, family members say.
On the way to the airport, he called two Democratic colleagues: Mr. Dodd, telling him to take over a mental health bill he had been working on, and Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, instructing her to take over a higher education bill he had been shepherding.
CONTINUED : 'Coach Ted'
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Yeas I loved this man//what he stood for//an turning his mistakes around, he was for the people//