Scenes of Love & Loss at Saoirse Kennedy Hill's Funeral: 'She Was a Rebel and I Loved Her to Death'
Late Monday, four days after she died following a suspected overdose at her family's storied Massachusetts estate, 22-year-old Saoirse Kennedy Hill was celebrated and grieved at a sometimes wrenching funeral Mass at Our Lady of Victory on Cape Cod.
"There were lots of tears," says a Kennedy friend who was in attendance and described the service to PEOPLE.
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'Steal Your Heart Away'
Also included in the program was an altered version of the traditional Irish song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" featuring Saoirse's name (which is Gaelic for "freedom") in the lyrics.
Her uncle Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Tim Shriver, her mother's cousin, both gave eulogies.
Dad Paul made brief welcome remarks after a poetry reading by two family friends, but he was soon overcome by emotion, according to the friend in attendance.
"He said, 'Saoirse was the love of my life. I loved her to death, I loved her to death,' " the friend recalls, "and he broke down crying."
The end of the program featured a few lines from Beyoncé's "XO," including "Your face is all that I see/I'll give you everything/Baby love me lights out."
Another Family Tragedy
Among the attendees at Monday's service — which followed other gatherings over the weekend including a Sunday wake at matriarch Ethel Kennedy's home — were Maria Shriver (center), Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (who was one of the pallbearers) and his father, a former congresman, and various aunts, uncles and cousins of Saoirse.
"I can only imagine what this is doing to Courtney's siblings, [to] Courtney," a close family friend tells PEOPLE. "What they're going through I believe is probably a re-traumatization of everything," the friend says, referring to the long history of deaths, accidents, overdoses and assasinations shadowing the family history.
"Trauma reignites the trauma. ... It's layer upon layer upon layer," the friend says.
Saoirse's mom, Courtney, (pictured with, from left, Shriver and Sydney Lawford McKelvy) "loved Saoirse and did everything for her. They talked on the phone all the time,” Sam Barber, a well-known painter on Cape Cod who instructed Courtney, told PEOPLE last week.
“When Courtney was painting with me in my studio, she’d be here for three hours and Saoirse would usually call twice, at least, to talk to her mother. … They were always laughing," Barber said.
At the Sunday wake at Ethel's home, Courtney helped with communion and offered an intention, according to a Kennedy friend in attendance
Quoting Courtney, the friend recalled it as: "For all the love that Paul and I had for each other, and for all the love Paul and I had for Saoirse."
A Shattering Loss
Saoirse had spoken candidly about her years with depression, but "she tried to have a super positive attitude about the challenges she was facing and tried not to let them rule her," a college friend told PEOPLE.
Set to return to Boston College later this month for her senior year, Saoirse was studying communications and had an activist streak, including working with the College Democrats.
“Saoirse was passionately moved by the causes of human rights and women’s empowerment and found great joy in volunteer work, working alongside indigenous communities to build schools in Mexico,” her family said last week.
Some of the Kennedys, including Courtney and Ethel, went out to the water on Friday afternoon aboard a family sailboat. A flag in front of Ethel’s home flew at half-staff.
“We mourn her loss,” cousin Patrick Kennedy, a former congressman, told NBC News. “But her memory will live on as someone who wasn’t going to keep silent and wasn’t going to be feeling as if she had something shameful but rather something medical that she sought treatment for.”
Pictured here: The grieving relatives gather after Monday's funeral Mass.
'Your Heart Is Always Broken'
"You go on with your life, but you carry it — you carry these people and your heart is always broken as a result of the loss," Kennedy biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli tells PEOPLE.
Family friend Luciana Klosterman told PEOPLE that, when she last spoke with Courtney in recent months, Courtney (pictured before the funeral near her daughter's casket) mentioned wanting to get more support for Saoirse, who had previously been in treatment as a teenager after a suicide attempt.
"Stigma places blame on the person suffering from the illness and makes them ashamed to talk openly about what they’re going through," Saoirse wrote in an essay for her school paper in 2016.
"As students, we have the power to end that immediately."
Saoirse's Last Night with Her Grandmother
Ethel, 91 (center with son Max Kennedy, left), was with Saoirse the night before she died, acording to uncle Robert, who shared some of Saoirse's final hours in his eulogy.
Ethel and Saoirse had dinner Wednesday night and watched the Democratic presidential debates before Saoirse went out for the evening, her uncle said, according to the friend in attendance at the funeral.
"There is nothing that Ethel would not do for her grandchildren, and she has always been that way," a source close to the Kennedy family tells PEOPLE.
"This tragedy is devastating for her, but her strong religious values will guide her through, as they have in the past," the source says.
A Life Cut Short
Ted Kennedy Jr., Joe Kennedy Jr. and Rep. Joe Kennedy lll (from left) attended the funeral Mass. The memories attendees' shared captured the bittersweet loss of a young life ended so suddenly, according to the family friend at the funeral.
Tearful mourners rememberd Saoirse as bright, athletic and funny — a sometimes irrepressible spirit — but they also spoke openly of her previous time in treatment.
Her uncle Robert, remembering her last morning alive, said Saoirse had stayed up after her night out on Wednesday in order to go for a sunrise swim in the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday before heading to bed.
That afternoon, she was found unresponsive.
Lifting Her Up
Saoirse's father (second from left with mom Courtney, at left) was among those who carried her casket at the service. Paul and Courtney married in 1993 and moved for a time to Ireland when Saoirse was a young girl, Courtney has said.
Saoirse "was incredibly brave and she didn't want anyone to go through what she was going through," a classmate during her time in treatment at Fernwood Academy tells PEOPLE.
"She was such a kind person," the classmate says. "If her passing can help someone else, that's what she would have wanted."
Pictured: Saoirse's hearse carries her casket to Our Lady of Victory.
Her Dad's 'Rebel'
Saoirse's father (pictured next to the hearse carrying her casket during her funeral) said Monday that she was "a rebel, and I loved her to death."
A Final Farewell
“They’ve had so much tragedy in the family that it’s got to be hard for them to reconcile it all,” says Taraborrelli, the biographer.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Saoirse's aunt Kerry Kennedy said, "These last few days have been abundant with suffering and love. ... We are blessed to have such a strong family and a community teeming with compassion, grace and love.
"Please say a prayer for Saoirse and for all of us."
• With reporting by COLLEEN CRONIN, MEGAN JOHNSON, JENNIFER LYNCH and LINDA MARX