Au­thor sug­gests Jackie O suf­fered with PTSD

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Bren­lee Car­ring­ton

THE new­est unau­tho­rized biog­ra­phy of Jac­que­line Bou­vier Kennedy Onas­sis suc­cess­fully pro­vides a fresh per­spec­tive on the widow of as­sas­si­nated U.S. pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy. Award-win­ning bi­og­ra­pher Bar­bara Leam­ing’s take on Kennedy Onas­sis is well-writ­ten and thor­oughly re­searched. That high qual­ity of work is to be ex­pected — Leam­ing also topped best­seller lists with other bi­ogra­phies, in­clud­ing two about dif­fer­ent as­pects of the lives of both Kennedy Onas­sis and JFK. Leam­ing the­o­rizes that Kennedy Onas­sis was suf­fer­ing from post trau­matic stress disorder (PTSD) for many years fol­low­ing the night­mare of sit­ting be­side her hus­band when he was as­sas­si­nated in Dal­las on Nov. 22, 1963. In 1963, how­ever, PTSD was not yet dis­cov­ered as a med­i­cal con­di­tion, ham­per­ing the re­cov­ery of Kennedy Onas­sis. The heart­break­ing, hor­rific, graphic de­tails of the as­sas­si­na­tion and Kennedy Onas­sis’s ex­pe­ri­ence of it form the ba­sis of a sub­stan­tial part of this tome. Ac­cord­ing to Leam­ing: “Cer­tain ex­treme ex­pe­ri­ences — help­lessly watch­ing the death of a per­son one cares for; nearly be­ing killed one­self; han­dling hu­man body parts — carry a greater neu­ro­log­i­cal punch than rou­tine events. The brain stores this emotionally fraught ma­te­rial more deeply and in a much more con­cen­trated form than it does other mem­o­ries.” Leam­ing opines that the wid­owed mother of two then suf­fered from flash­backs of the bru­tal killing of her hus­band for many years, ex­plain­ing that “flash­backs make one a help­less vic­tim of the brain’s an­i­mal re­sponses.” Leam­ing writes of how Kennedy Onas­sis ag­o­nized with a priest, Fa­ther McSor­ley, over her sui­ci­dal thoughts fol­low­ing her hus­band’s bru­tal slay­ing. Leam­ing quotes Kennedy Onas­sis ask­ing the priest: “Do you think God would sep­a­rate me from my hus­band if I killed my­self? It is so hard to bear. I feel as though I am go­ing out of my mind at times.” The priest also re­calls that Kennedy Onas­sis felt guilty she was not able to act quickly enough to pre­vent her hus­band’s death. Fa­ther McSor­ley is also quoted as hav­ing been told by the for­mer first lady about be­ing mother to Caro­line and John a few months after JFK’s mur­der, “I’m no good to them. I’m so bleed­ing inside.” He also re­counts that he was afraid Kennedy Onas­sis was se­ri­ous about killing her­self, claim­ing “she would be pleased if her death pre­cip­i­tated a wave of other sui­cides be­cause it would be a good thing if peo­ple were al­lowed to get out of their mis­ery.” Kennedy Onas­sis is also quoted as hav­ing un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally told the priest she was glad Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, one of JFK’s paramours, es­caped her mis­ery through sui­cide. Even­tu­ally, writes Leam­ing, Fa­ther McSor­ley suc­cess­fully per­suaded Kennedy Onas­sis not to take her own life, and “she re­as­sured him that she would never ac­tu­ally at­tempt to do so.” Leam­ing’s re­search re­veals that symp­toms of PTSD in­clude “re­liv­ing the trau­matic event, avoid­ing sit­u­a­tions that threaten to pro­voke mem­o­ries of the event... sui­ci­dal thoughts; nightmares and sleep dis­tur­bances and a sig­nif­i­cant spike in dis­tress around the an­niver­sary of the event.” She claims Kennedy Onas­sis was suf­fer­ing from all of those in­di­cia, and the symp­toms and suf­fer­ing only in­ten­si­fied after the as­sas­si­na­tion of her brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy, in 1968. The Un­told Story also de­scribes Kennedy Onas­sis’ com­pli­cated mar­riages to both JFK and Aris­to­tle Onas­sis. In­ter­est­ingly, the book does not dis­cuss much about her two fa­mous chil­dren, Caro­line and John. Although she was crit­i­cized in the U.S. for mar­ry­ing again and liv­ing in Greece, Kennedy Onas­sis’ 1968 mar­riage to mag­nate Aris­to­tle Onas­sis was, opines Leam­ing, a way for her to pro­tect her­self. Aris­to­tle Onas­sis told his staff that “his emotionally frag­ile bride was go­ing to re­quire spe­cial care.” He died in 1975 amidst ru­mours that he and Kennedy Onas­sis were on the verge of di­vorce. In 1975, Kennedy Onas­sis de­cided to seek psy­chi­atric treat­ment for her as-yet-un­di­ag­nosed PTSD, which ul­ti­mately helped her to re­cover. She be­came a re­spected ed­i­tor in the book pub­lish­ing in­dus­try. In 1980, Kennedy Onas­sis said: “After go­ing through a rather dif­fi­cult time, I con­sider my­self com­par­a­tively sane. I am very proud of that.” Her death in 1994 at the age of 64 was mourned in­ter­na­tion­ally. Leam­ing’s new biog­ra­phy brings her back to life in an im­por­tant new light. Bren­lee Car­ring­ton, a Win­nipeg lawyer and me­di­a­tor, is the Law So­ci­ety of Man­i­toba’s

Eq­uity Om­budswoman.

Jac­que­line Bou­vier Kennedy Onas­sis: The Un­told Story

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