In the dining room of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue, a little after 10:15 p.m. on May 19, 1994, John told family and friends that she was dead. Minutes later, a desperate keening could be heard from a back hallway. It sounded as if it might have been one of the old Greek maids from the days of Onassis. It turned out to be a woman no one knew, silver-haired, odd-looking, who suddenly appeared in the front hallway and embraced John. He at first took her to be one of his Bouvier cousins. But when he gallantly apologized for not knowing her, the woman told him first one, then another obviously fake name, and he realized that she had come in off the street, from the crowds that had been logjammed behind blue sawhorses for days on the sidewalk below.
That scene in the hallway could have played out in so many ways, ugly or angry, weird or graceful. Good manners can help at a time like that; so can kindness, patience, and experience with the chaos that was always at the edge of his family’s life. By the time his mother died, he had learned simplicity too, which was her greatness. But to know how to handle an intruder at your mother’s deathbed, you need above all to be true to yourself. He gently told the woman, “Madam, you don’t belong here.”
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