Saoirse Kennedy Hill 'Had Her Demons' but She 'Tried Not to Let Them Rule Her' and Spoke Openly of Her Time in Treatment
"She seemed happy," a friend recalls but then says, "I knew she had her demons. ... I knew she struggled with those for a while"
They called her “Calamity Jane”: Bright and energetic, even irrepressible, Saoirse Kennedy Hill, granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, was remembered at her Monday funeral as a young woman for whom anything was possible.
Her uncle Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gave one of two eulogies at the Mass on Monday, where he shared the nickname for his niece, according to a Kennedy friend in attendance.
“There were lots of tears,” says the friend.
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The family had gathered at Our Lady Victory, not far from the family’s storied estate in Massachusetts where the only child of Courtney Kennedy Hill and Paul Hill was found unresponsive last week following a suspected overdose. She was 22.
“She was a rebel, and I loved her to death,” Paul said at the Mass, according to the friend. Visibly emotional, he broke down in tears after brief welcoming remarks to the mourners.
Since her death — whose official cause and manner of death, whether it was accidental, is pending a toxicology report — Saoirse’s loved ones have described her as warm and ready to take on the world but with a discerning eye about the things around her that could be changed.
She had an activist streak, including joining the College Democrats at Boston College, where she was set to graduate next year with a degree in communications. And she had spoken openly about her own mental health issues, including years with depression.
In a candid 2016 essay for her school newspaper at the elite Deerfield Academy, where she had returned after time away in treatment and a suicide attempt, Saoirse pushed other students to de-stigmatize discussions of 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.
At the time, she wrote that she had been dealing with depression since middle school but that a sexual violation from a close confidante, whom she did not name, had sharpened her emotional challenges.
At Monday’s funeral, the family also spoke of her time in treatment. Uncle Robert, in his eulogy, shared some of her final hours, including how she had finished a paper for school and had dinner with grandmother Ethel Kennedy the night before her death before heading out on the town and then staying up to see the sunrise last Thursday.
“Her phrase was always, ‘Can you believe what happened to me?’ ” the friend tells PEOPLE, recalling how Saoirse was eulogized. “And everybody would say, ‘Yeah we can believe that happened to you,’ because that was the history of what happened to her.”
“I literally watched her social media stories earlier that day, less than 12 hours before the story broke,” says a friend of Saoirse’s from Boston College, Bill Stone.
“She seemed happy,” Stone recalls 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.”
• Reporting by COLLEEN CRONIN and LIZ McNEIL