"In the fourteen months that John had been sick, she never once spoke to him," Cindy McCain writes in her new memoir — though a Palin source says she corresponded with Meghan McCain in 2017 and tried to arrange a visit

By Adam Carlson
April 21, 2021 02:29 PM
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cindy mccain
From left: Cindy McCain (back) with Sarah Palin and John McCain on the campaign trail in 2008
| Credit: Sangjib Min/Newport News Daily Press/Getty

In the final months of Sen. John McCain's life, after he had retreated to his beloved ranch in Arizona, "only his closest friends and people we trusted" were allowed a visit, widow Cindy McCain writes in her new memoir.

Among those confidantes were Sens. Joe Biden and Lindsey Graham, two longtime family friends, and fellow Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Others called, like former President George W. Bush and former Sen. Bob Dole.

According to Cindy, one person John did not hear from directly was Sarah Palin — the Alaska governor-turned-vice presidential nominee whom John chose as his running mate for their 2008 campaign.

It was Palin's silence, Cindy writes in Stronger, out next week, that led to her exclusion from John's memorials after he died in August 2018. (A Palin source disputes this; more on their account is below.)

"In the fourteen months that John had been sick, she never once spoke to him. He had put her on the political map, and she didn't even send him a note of good wishes when he was down," Cindy writes in her memoir. "That is not someone you invite to a final farewell."

In an interview for this week's issue of PEOPLE, which exclusively excerpts Stronger, Cindy says her husband was surrounded by love before he died.

• For more on Cindy McCain's life now and to read an exclusive excerpt of her memoir, Strongersubscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

"There were so many opportunities for people to come, and I made sure that people could, because I wanted to keep him engaged," says Cindy, 66.

But, she says, "I was just very disappointed in what Mrs. Palin did, because I just felt that… I had hoped that she had felt my husband was as loved as I did. And I was just very disappointed. I think I was more disappointed than John."

By contrast, Donald Trump was similarly not welcomed though his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, attended John's Washington, D.C., funeral.

"John always taught me that it takes more energy to be mad than to simply move on," Cindy writes in Stronger. "I don't know exactly why Ivanka and Jared wanted to be there. But I am hoping that they came for the reason I would think—that they mourned the loss of my husband."

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Cindy McCain kneels at husband John McCain's casket after his memorial in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in August 2018.
| Credit: Shawn Thew/Shutterstock

Cindy says she has not heard from Palin since 2018: "I haven't, but I wish her well."

The Palin source provided to PEOPLE an email exchange from December 2017 between her and John and Cindy's daughter Meghan McCain in which Palin wrote, "Please know we're praying for you, your mom, your brothers, sister ... please give the Senator a big hug from us."

Meghan responded, in part, "Thank you so much for this kind note. ... I will make sure to pass on your prayers and good wishes." The Palin source also says Palin tried to arrange a visit with John in Arizona while he was sick but was rebuffed by intermediaries.

Palin's selection as John's running mate was historic, making her the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket. While Palin, 57, drew enthusiastic response among GOP voters, her stumbles on the national stage — particularly on policy — were seen as part of John's foundering campaign.

In his final book before he died, John wrote of wanting to choose friend Joe Lieberman, an independent senator and former Democrat whom he felt shared his political instincts, as his No. 2. But John settled on Palin as a more Republican-friendly option.

In that book, he also spoke up for her "few misjudgments."

"She didn't put herself on the ticket. I did," he wrote. "I asked her to go through an experience that was wearing me down, that wears every candidate down. I made mistakes and misjudgments, too."

In Stronger, which will be published next Tuesday, Cindy writes of initially finding Palin "charming and delightful and ambitious" but also "naïve about national politics."

"She believed in her own abilities. Confidence is great—but only when it's warranted," Cindy writes.

Stronger COURAGE, HOPE, AND HUMOR IN MY LIFE WITH JOHN MCCAIN By CINDY MCCAIN
Stronger, by Cindy McCain
| Credit: Crown Forum
Apollo in the Hamptons 2014
From left: John and Cindy McCain in 2014
| Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Palin's disinvitation from the McCain memorials made headlines in 2018, though the family did not discuss it publicly. "It's sad," one Republican source told PEOPLE at the time. "They had a good friendship."

In 2018, Palin said that reading of John's disappointment over not picking Lieberman as his running mate was "like a perpetual gut punch" and "that's not what Sen. McCain has told me all these years."

After John died from brain cancer, she paid tribute to him as "an American original."

"Sen. John McCain was a maverick and a fighter, never afraid to stand for his beliefs. John never took the easy path in life — and through sacrifice and suffering he inspired others to serve something greater than self," Palin wrote then. "John McCain was my friend. I will remember the good times. My family and I send prayers for Cindy and the McCain family."