"We were telling stories yesterday about how she could navigate tensions in our family in a way that no one before and no one since has been able to do,” says cousin Tim Shriver

By Rachel DeSantis
June 19, 2020 12:30 PM
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The extended Kennedy family is keeping the spirit of Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her young son Gideon alive nearly four months after their tragic deaths.

Tim Shriver, Maeve’s cousin and John F. Kennedy's nephew, tells PEOPLE that the family has been “sticking together” and continues to lend a listening ear to one another, whether through telling stories about Maeve, who died at 40, and her “guts,” or meeting regularly on Zoom for prayer, silence and meditation.

He adds that he recently welcomed Maeve’s husband David and their two children Gabriella, 7, and Toby, 2½, to his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where they reminisced about the special way Maeve, a granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, acted as the family’s glue.

“We were telling stories yesterday about how she could navigate tensions in our family in a way that no one before and no one since has been able to do,” he says. “We try to hold the depth of everybody’s sadness honestly and without judgment.”

Tim Shriver, Maeve McKean Kennedy
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty; Michael Loccisano/Getty

One story in particular that encapsulated Maeve and her plucky spirit happened several weeks before she died, when Tim and wife Linda hosted a reception for their cousin Patrick Kennedy’s wife Amy Kennedy, who is running for Congress.

“I welcomed everybody, and then I introduced Patrick, who was speaking on behalf of Amy because she wasn’t there,” Shriver, 60, recalls. “And Maeve was like, ‘In this family, even when you have a woman running for Congress, only the men get to speak.’ … No edge, but all message. She had a beautiful capacity to change people without attacking them.”

Adds Shriver’s 26-year-old daughter Kathleen: “She could say that in the most compassionate… She could get away with it.”

Maeve Kennedy and her son Gideon
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Maeve, a human rights lawyer focused on global public health in recent years, died alongside her 8-year-old son Gideon in a canoe accident in early April.

She was the daughter of former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and David Lee Townsend, an attorney and professor.

She and her family were staying at Kathleen’s empty waterfront home in Shady Side, Maryland to isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. Maeve and Gideon ventured out in a canoe to retrieve a ball that had fallen in the water while they were playing kickball, but were pulled out into the open Chesapeake Bay. Their paddle and capsized canoe were found that evening, and their bodies were discovered a few days later.

Shriver, the chairman of the Special Olympics, told PEOPLE shortly after her death that “the reality is the pain is unspeakably hard.”

He also said that more than 120 family members had gathered remotely to mourn, as the pandemic prevented a physical memorial.