Whenever a tragedy or unexpected death hits the Kennedy family, it sets off another round of tired speculation about whether some sort of "curse" has afflicted the famous clan. Kara Kennedy's sad passing recently has unfortunately revived that ridiculous story line. But her life— cut short though it was—reflects something more telling about the family, and in particular, about Ms. Kennedy's father, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. And that is a relentless optimism in the face of illness and other difficulty.
Kara Kennedy, who was merely 51 when she died of an apparent heart attack at her gym, wasn't supposed to live this long. Diagnosed with lung cancer at age 42, she was told the cancer was inoperable and that she had months to live. Her father refused to give up and found a doctor who removed part of Kara Kennedy's lung. The senator, who held a deep Catholic faith, prayed daily at a nearby Boston church while his daughter recovered. Five years later, her cancer was in remission and the determined exerciser was running five miles a day.
Ted Kennedy, Jr., Kara Kennedy's younger brother, had cancer as well, losing a leg to bone cancer when he was just a boy. It was a devastating diagnosis, and a terrible decision for any parent to have to make, to have a young son's leg removed. But Edward M. Kennedy, Sr., was not about to let his son miss the joys of childhood. As Ted, Jr. so movingly told at the senator's funeral, his father insisted that the two make it up a snowy hill—even with the boy trying out his new artificial leg—so he could enjoy sledding.
And the senator too handled his own cancer with characteristic optimism and determination. He underwent risky surgery to treat the brain tumor soon after he was diagnosed—surgery that might have ended his life then. He not only did not retire from the Senate, but he continued to make phone calls and monitor the debate over healthcare reform, which had been his life's work. Friends and colleagues who spoke to the senator as he battled his illness were overwhelmed at the courage he showed in the face of a grim diagnosis. His last day on earth was the only day he was not up and out of bed.
Kara Kennedy's death is not only a sad development for a family that only recently lost its patriarch, but it is also unsettling for all of us. She had beaten cancer, giving hope to so many sufferers of the disease. And this was not a case of an out-of-shape individual with bad eating habits falling dead from a heart attack. Kara Kennedy was impressively fit, a swimmer and a runner who died at her health club—most likely, her brother Patrick Kennedy said, because the cancer and its treatment had taken such a toll on her body.
But her life and her untimely death should not be clocked into a category of Kennedy "curse" victims. Kara Kennedy represented the remarkable fortitude and resilience of a family that has endured its share of tragedy. And that is how she should be remembered.