OFFBEAT: Sen. Ted Kennedy's funeral unites family with words of inspiration

Off Beat with Philip Potempa
2009-09-01T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Sen. Ted Kennedy's funeral unites family with words of inspirationPhilip Potempa - philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

I joined my parents, my aunts and uncles and so many others this weekend to watch the moving funeral and memorial services for Sen. Edward Kennedy.

I was especially moved by the words shared Saturday by Kennedy's sons, Teddy Jr. and Patrick, during the Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Basilica in Boston.

Gathered together on a very rainy day under the same religious roof, the Kennedy family once again united, as any family must, during toughest of times.

But when the Kennedys face tragedy, the press and public are always a part of what is usually a very private experience for others.

Among those joining Sen. Kennedy's widow, Victoria, 55, and his children at the services: sole Kennedy sibling Jean Kennedy Smith, age 81, niece Caroline Kennedy; Sen. Kennedy's first wife, Joan Kennedy, 72; Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with wife Maria Shriver and her 93-year-old father Sargent Shriver (who has Alzheimer's disease and attended his wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver's funeral two weeks ago); Bobby Kennedy's widow Ethel Kennedy, 81; three of the past living U.S. Presidents and First Ladies; and President Barrack Obama and First Lady Michelle.

I was not surprised at Teddy Jr.'s wonderful and moving tribute speech at the funeral.

I met and interviewed him in October 2002 at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster.

Teddy Jr. and his encouraging words were part of a lecture and discussion program sponsored by The Community Hospital Cancer Research Foundation.

His talk, "Facing the Challenge," was attended by about 400

At the time, he told me he was "shocked and horrified" at age 12 when his father told him part of his leg would be amputated because he was diagnosed with bone cancer.

"It was 1973 and at that point, cancer meant misery and dying," said Kennedy, now 48, a father of two and a civil rights attorney for people with disabilities.

"I never even knew anyone who had cancer. What I did know was that I couldn't give up."

Similar to his words Saturday, Teddy Jr. said family and support are important for facing challenges.

"We all learn from each other and also gain support by talking about these same shared experiences," he said during that interview seven years ago.

"It's even harder to be affected by something like this when you're young."

He reminded parents of the importance of having high expectations for all children, whether sick or healthy, rich or poor.

"My parents always made me feel like I could do anything," he said.

"And today, I'm still very active with sailing and skiing. A defeatist attitude never solves anything. You need to have confidence and self-esteem. No matter what happens in life, it's important to still be standing tall."

Teddy Jr. told me how much of his support during the most difficult times in his life has come from his family.

"There's always been a pressure to succeed in my family," he said.

"It seems everything in the world has happened to my family. But we never give up. I think when my story first came out to the media when I was 12, I was described as this courageous young boy. I was never trying to be that kind of person. I was just doing what I had to because I knew I had to keep going. These may not be easy challenges to face. But these are the challenges in life that humanize us, no matter who we are and what name we have."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or 219.852.4327.

Today's Celebrity Birthdays

Comedian-actress Lily Tomlin is 70. Actor Don Stroud is 66. Singer Archie Bell of Archie Bell and the Drells is 65. Singer Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees is 63. Drummer Greg Errico of Sly and the Family Stone is 61. Talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw is 59. Singer Gloria Estefan is 52. Jazz saxophonist Boney James and former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers are 48. Singer-guitarist Grant Lee Phillips ("Gilmore Girls") is 46. Country singer-songwriter Charlie Robison is 45. Basketball star Tim Hardaway is 43. DJ Spigg Nice of Lost Boyz is 39. Actor Ricardo Antonio Chavira ("Desperate Housewives") is 38. Singer J.D. Fortune of INXS is 36. Actor Scott Speedman ("Felicity") is 34. Guitarist Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy is 25.

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