Saoirse Kennedy Hill's Last Night Alive 'Was a Flight of Her Characteristic Exuberance,' According to Uncle RFK Jr.
At her funeral Mass, her father called her "the love of my life"
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Aug. 5 and has been updated.
Saoirse Kennedy Hill saw the sun rise on the last morning of her life.
The day was still young, though it may not have felt that way to her: A 22-year-old set to start her senior year at Boston College, she had spent the previous hours in “a flight of her characteristic exuberance” out and around the family’s Massachusetts compound, loved ones remembered at her Aug. 5 funeral.
Granddaughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the only child of Courtney Kennedy Hill and Paul Hill, Saoirse had dinner on the night of July 31 with grandmother Ethel Kennedy, the 91-year-old family matriarch, after finishing a 25-page paper for school. Afterward, they watched the second night of the latest round of Democratic presidential debates.
Then Saoirse went out on the town, including to the local bar and restaurant Embargo where she sang karaoke. She was back at the family’s storied estate in Hyannis Port early the next morning, singing and dancing with a close friend into the wee hours. She wanted to stay awake to see the dawn — to go swimming in the nearby Atlantic Ocean as the sun rose over the horizon, touching the water.
She was in bed around 6:30 in the morning, already thinking ahead to her scheduled dinner plans with friends in Los Angeles. “It was a perfect night and, as was her habit, she documented much of it on social media,” her uncle Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said at her funeral Mass, detailing her final hours.
She and her friend Sinead, with whom she had spent her evening out, went to bed in the room usually claimed by her uncle Douglas. No one went to disturb them as noon came and went because they knew how late the pair had been out, a family friend tells PEOPLE.
“When they finally went up,” the friend says, “she was dead.”
“Saoirse,” Robert said at her funeral, “woke up with God.”
Authorities found Saoirse unresponsive at the home on the afternoon of Aug. 1 and transported her to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead following what multiple news outlets described as a suspected overdose.
Her official cause and manner of death, whether it was accidental, are pending a toxicology report.
Details of her funeral were first described to PEOPLE by a Kennedy friend who was in attendance at the Mass. Robert later posted his eulogy for Saoirse — a joyous, mournful remembrance of a young woman no less exuberant for her own struggles — in full online.
Of the service, the Kennedy friend says, “There were a lot of tears.”
Saoirse’s mother, Courtney, did not speak; her father, Paul, said his daughter “was the love of my life” before he broke down in tears, according to the family friend.
“She was a rebel,” Paul said of Saoirse, “and I loved her to death.”
Tim Shriver, Courtney’s cousin, also gave a eulogy and described Saoirse as “the daughter of two beautiful parents and dozens more mothers and fathers eager to have her.” (Like Robert, he shared his eulogy online.)
“She was an only child with a hundred brothers and sisters,” said Shriver, who is the chairman of the Special Olympics, founded by his mother, Eunice Shriver.
“If anybody ever wondered whether God loves the Kennedys, the proof is that he gave us Saoirse, this brilliant beam of light and laughter,” Robert said in his eulogy. “Now, it’s time for us to cease being sad at her passing and to practice being grateful that we had her for 22 amazing years.”
Since her death, many who knew Saoirse have spoken of her brightness and warmth and also her drive — what in other Kennedys has pushed them to be politicians and public servants. Saoirse, too, was politically and socially minded, with an activist streak. She saw the world and what could change in it; and she could be as discerning about herself. She spoke candidly about her mental health and time in treatment.
“My depression took root in the beginning of my middle school years and will be with me for the rest of my life,” she wrote in a 2016 piece for the student newspaper at her private school, the elite Deerfield Academy. “Although I was mostly a happy child, I suffered bouts of deep sadness that felt like a heavy boulder on my chest.”
Like her daughter, Courtney had also grappled with depression, saying in a May radio interview, “I’ve gone in and out … my whole life. So all of you out there who suffer from depression, you’re not alone. And you can get through it, as difficult as it is.”
Saoirse spoke out in 2016 after returning to Deerfield to encourage others in helping her dismantle the stigma around mental health.
“People talk about cancer freely; why is it so difficult to discuss the effects of depression, [bipolar], anxiety, or schizophrenic disorders?” she wrote. “Just because the illness may not be outwardly visible doesn’t mean the person suffering from it isn’t struggling.”
“Let’s come together to make our community more inclusive and comfortable,” she wrote.
“Our entire community benefited from her courage in writing and speaking on these deeply personal and important issues,” Deerfield Assistant Head of School David Thiel said last week.
At Saoirse’s funeral service, Shriver described how the family celebrated her last birthday, in May. Saoirse had asked to have dinner outside, under the summer sky.
“And at one point, the conversation turned to that birthday talk: What does it feel like and what do you remember from your last year and that kind of thing,” Shriver said. “And then I asked [Saoirse] a slightly different question: ‘What do you want to learn in your 22nd year?’
“Without a second’s pause, she answered: ‘I want to learn to love myself.’ ”
• With reporting by JENNIFER LYNCH