“She was an only child with a hundred brothers and sisters,” said Shriver, who is the chairman of the Special Olympics, founded by his mother Eunice Shriver.
Saoirse died of an apparent drug overdose on Aug. 1 at the home of her grandmother on the historic family compound in Hyannisport. (The cause and manner of death are currently pending a toxicology repot in Massachusetts.)
She was exceptionally close to Shriver and his wife, Linda, and their five children. “She wanted Linda to be her godmother, so at the age of 18, she got a new godmother!” said Shriver.
“She was a student of communications who taught her many uncles and aunts to speak from the heart,” said Shriver, who stressed how Saoirse taught their family by example.
He described how they celebrated her 22nd birthday in May, when they had all eaten dinner outside, at Saoirse’s suggestion. At one point, Shriver asked her, “What do you want to learn in your 22nd year?”
“Without a second pause, she answered: ‘I want to learn to love myself,'” he recounted.
Such vulnerable honesty, he said, is her lasting legacy. “But we knew — all of us — that is was our question too,” he added. “And I think we knew that we didn’t know how to answer it; that as much as we wished we could tell her how or to mirror it to her, she could only answer it for herself.”
The question, he said, “is echoing in my soul now.”
“But in these last few days,” he continued, “something has happened here. To us, not by us. This village of Hyannisport that we know for its celebrities and scions, for daredevils and night owls, for parties and path breakers — has changed. Everywhere, there is a gentleness here now. A love. A deep and breathtakingly beautiful vulnerability. … We are not afraid to cry anymore.”
Seemingly alluding to the family’s famous stoicism following the many tragedies they have endured, he said, “We prize bravery here, but all of a sudden, bravery has become facing our pain, the most brave thing any of us can do.”
‘We prize success here, but all of a sudden, success has become loving ourselves and one another without judgment.”
He went on to say: “We are being changed by a wounded healer, by Saoirse Roisin Kennedy Hill. This woman who wanted to learn is now teaching. That is her real and true miracle. What no one in our family has done for a century, she has done. She is leading us to learn what she now knows: that we are each enough in the eyes of God.”
He also spoke of his own family’s bond with Saoirse, a frequent visitor to their home.
“I felt like she chose us. Your own kids don’t chose you after all. They can’t. But I felt like Saoirse chose me. Chose us. She would come to us with that amazing smile. ‘Welcome home Saoirse,’ I would say. ‘How are you?’ And she would always answer, ‘Better now that I’m with you.'”
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He also talked about her love of the sea, where he said she was “most happy.”
“And that meant she was most happy wearing very little clothing,” he said in one light-hearted moment. “I mean so little clothing that I frequently had to look away. But she didn’t just sit around on the sea. Beaches, boats, breakwaters, buoys. She took them all on.”
She was especially fond of the “HH Buoy,” from which she and her cousins loved to leap into the water below. He suggested they rename the buoy, the “SKH” buoy after Saoirse. (Within a few days, her initials were emblazoned on the buoy.)
In the days after her death, her father, Paul Hill, jumped off the buoy as a tribute to his daughter.
A member of the Guilford Four, he had been wrongly imprisoned for 15 years by the British for an IRA bombing and he never learned to swim. Nonetheless, he jumped off the buoy for the first time, as a tribute to his daughter.
Shriver ended his eulogy by vowing to remember what Saoirse had taught them, “to love ourselves and in loving the precious gift God created that is each of us, to love her all the more and with abandon, to love each other, too.”