Returning from her summer vacation, Maria Shriver is speaking frankly about grief’s long shadow over her life — including the recent, sudden death of cousin Saoirse Kennedy Hill — and the “stillness” and self-love she found for herself in recent weeks.
“I find it ironic that my August break started with a death. I took it as an invitation to delve into what felt dead and lifeless inside of me,” Shriver, 63, wrote in the latest issue of her newsletter, Sunday Paper. She added: “You see, we can all walk around seemingly alive but feel dead on the inside. We’re all running around doing things that bring us no joy or meaning.”
The daughter of Courtney Kennedy Hill and Paul Hill, Saoirse was found unresponsive at the family’s storied compound in Massachusetts on Aug. 1, following what multiple news outlets described as a suspected overdose. (Her cause and manner of death, whether it was an accident, remain unconfirmed.)
Saoirse’s death “was sudden and heartbreaking, and it stopped everyone and everything in its tracks,” Shriver wrote in her newsletter.
Returning to Los Angeles after the funeral on Cape Cod, Shriver “thought a lot about the fragility of life,” she wrote. “I thought about the suddenness of death, and how it upends us in different ways.”
During her planned break away — from her job, even from social media — and while “quieting down,” Shriver “came to realize that everything is in flux. Death and rebirth are everywhere. They are all the more reason to be less hurried and to pay more attention to what is.”
“After all, all we have is this moment,” she wrote.
And while that contemplative mood gave her some calm and joy, it also unearthed emotions Shriver felt had long since passed or been processed.
“As I sat with my thoughts, I found myself furious at God for taking my cousin Courtney’s only child away,” she wrote. “It doesn’t get any more brutal than that, as many parents know all too well. I found myself holding onto my own children tighter, only to realize that if I hold on too tightly, I might inhibit their ability to live. So, I’ve checked myself and am focusing instead on just being with them.”
In mid-August, she traveled to Utah to visit one of her sons. Sitting atop a mountain a decade since her mom had died, “I found myself sobbing uncontrollably.”
“I sobbed for my cousin,” Shriver wrote. “I sobbed for all those who are suffering. I sobbed for my own grief, sadness, and fears. I thought I was done grieving the death of my mother, my father, my uncle, my marriage, and my old identity — all of which unfolded in rapid succession over the last 10 years — but turns out, I wasn’t.”
“I thought I was done grieving my youth, my children moving out, past mistakes, unrequited loves, etc., but turns out, I wasn’t,” she continued. “I wasn’t done with grief, and it wasn’t done with me.”
After that torrent of grief came stillness, “total stillness,” so complete that Shriver could hear herself breathing and the passing sigh of the wind.
Then “came an extraordinary revelation.”
“I opened my eyes, looked around, and realized I was OK. The word ‘survivor’ even came to mind,” Shriver wrote.
With a quieted mind, she had been able “to realize that I was proud of myself for so many things …. to even realize that I love myself,” Shriver wrote. “Sitting there alone, I felt all that I am, instead of all that I am not. I felt it for perhaps the first time ever.”
The tears resumed “as I realized that so much of my life has been spent in the hunt, climbing the ladder of so-called success. I’ve spent so much time judging myself and trying to prove myself while looking to others for approval and validation.”
“I’ve spent so much time trying to fix myself, only to now realize that I’m already whole,” Shriver wrote. “On that mountain, I came to realize that I was already lovable. I was already loved unconditionally by God and by myself. I gasped and felt a huge sense of relief wash over me.”
Saoirse, a 22-year-old set to return for her final year at Boston College only weeks after she was found dead, “would have been stunned to hear all the incredible things that were said at her funeral,” Shriver wrote, continuing:
“It would have stopped her cold to realize how loved she was. I’m sure it would have been a huge relief for her to feel her worth.”
“I remember sitting at her wake and thinking about how I want to feel peace in life, not in death. Lo and behold, just a few days later, I found it,” Shriver wrote. “It only took me 63 years.”
Everyone is the author of their own story, she wrote. And her new narrative will be “exactly the opposite” of the old.
“Today, it brings me joy to be who I am. I feel good knowing that I am here to be of service. I am here to share my story — the dark and light of it,” Shriver wrote. “I am here to use my voice whenever I can to help others.”
Appearing on Today to discuss her essay, Shriver said her self-reflection “[taught] me that I was enough.”
“I think updating your narrative, seeing yourself as enough, not being so hard on yourself, not driving yourself, not being in the negative self-talk is so important,” she said, “because the world does that to you.”