"We are blessed to have such a strong family and a community teeming with compassion, grace and love," Kerry said

By Adam Carlson
August 06, 2019 10:41 AM

The five days since the sudden death of Robert F. Kennedy‘s granddaughter Saoirse Kennedy Hill have been “abundant with suffering and love,” her aunt Kerry Kennedy told PEOPLE.

Kerry, a human rights advocate like many in her family, said in a statement that the darkness and light the family has seen in the last week “the two common experiences which bind all humanity with one another and through that, to the Almighty.”

“We are blessed to have such a strong family and a community teeming with compassion, grace and love,” said Kerry, 59. On Monday night, she posted a photo on Instagram of a buoy that had been altered to include her niece’s initials.

“The village celebrates Saoirse,” she wrote.

• For more on Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s young life and unexpected death, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

The 22-year-old only child of Courtney Kennedy Hill and Paul Hill, Saoirse, who was set to begin her final year at Boston College later this month, was found unresponsive at the family’s storied Massachusetts compound on Thursday afternoon.

She was pronounced dead soon after. Though her cause of death and whether it was accidental is pending a toxicology report, multiple news outlets have described what happened as a suspected overdose.

“Our hearts are shattered by the loss of our beloved Saoirse,” the family said in a statement last week.

Ethel Kennedy, the 91-year-old family matriarch, said at the time: “The world is a little less beautiful today.”

RELATED: Inside the Short Life and Sudden Death of Saoirse Kennedy Hill, RFK’s Granddaughter 

Kerry Kennedy (left) and Saoirse Kennedy Hill
Mourners at Saoirse Kennedy Hill's funeral Mass on Monday
DAVID L RYAN/Shutterstock

In the hours before she died, Saoirse had spent time with grandmother Ethel and then ventured out around Cape Cod, according to uncle Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who shared some about her final hours at her funeral on Monday.

Her mother, Courtney, did not speak at the funeral Mass; her father, Paul, said his daughter “was the love of my life” before he broke down in tears.

“She was a rebel,” Paul said of Saoirse, “and I loved her to death.”

(Details of the service were confirmed to PEOPLE by a Kennedy friend in attendance.)

Afterward, she was buried in a private ceremony next to her aunt Mary Richardson Kennedy.

In the days since Saoirse’s death, those who knew her her described a bright spirit with an activist streak, someone who grappled with her demons but was willing to use her own struggles to de-stigmatize the broader conversation about mental health.

RELATED: Saoirse Kennedy Hill Opened Up About Her Battle with Depression 3 Years Before Her Death

“People talk about cancer freely; why is it so difficult to discuss the effects of depression, [bipolar], anxiety, or schizophrenic disorders?” she wrote in 2016 in a candid piece for her high school newspaper. “Just because the illness may not be outwardly visible doesn’t mean the person suffering from it isn’t struggling.”

A friend at Boston College, Bill Stone, says he saw some of her social media posts from Cape Cod only hours before she died.

“She seemed happy,” Stone told PEOPLE but says, “I knew she had her demons. … I knew she struggled with those for a while.” Still, “She tried to have a super positive attitude about the challenges she was facing and tried not to let them rule her.”

“Please say a prayer,” said Kerry Kennedy, “for Saoirse and for all of us.”

• With reporting by LIZ McNEIL

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

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