Mary Richardson Kennedy was remembered Saturday at her funeral in Bedford as a generous, dynamic woman who struggled with depression and substance abuse, but ultimately was admired, forgiven and loved.
The most powerful outpouring of tenderness came from her estranged husband, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who broke down twice while he eulogized the 52-year-old mother of four of his children as "the most extraordinary woman I have ever met."
"I had feelings about her that I never had and I will never have again" for another person, he told friends and family who packed St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church during the two-hour, standing-room-only morning service .
Kennedy, 58, welled up as he recalled their final conversation, when she phoned him Tuesday, the day before she committed suicide.
"She said to me, 'You know me better than anyone,' and I said, 'Yes,'" he told hundreds of mourners. "And she said, 'You know I'm a really good girl.' And I said, 'Yes, I know and you still are.'"
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who had filed for divorce from Mary in 2010 and was fighting for permanent custody of their children, said she suffered terribly because of what his sister Kerry Kennedy referred to as "the disease."
Her alcoholism and depression deepened as her husband was publicly linked to the actress Cheryl Hines in the past year. In 2010, Mary was arrested twice, once for driving while intoxicated and a second time for driving under the influence of prescription drugs. Police also had been summoned to the couple's South Bedford Road estate to settle domestic disputes.
On Wednesday afternoon, a household staffer found Mary hanging in a barn behind the redbrick family home that she lovingly refurbished as a model of eco-friendly design.
The house is "a monument to Mary. It is an extraordinary accomplishment by the most extraordinary woman that I have ever met," said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., noting that Mary had been a design architect with a successful Manhattan career who "gave it up for her kids and a life in the suburbs" when they wed in 1994.
In his sermon, Msgr. George P. Thompson said Jesus no doubt welcomed Mary into heaven, assuring her that there will be "no more sadness of any kind. ... You can help me to watch over your family and friends."
Mary and Robert's three oldest children -- Conor, 18; Kyra, 17; and Finn, 15 -- each read Scripture passages from the altar. The youngest, 11-year-old Aiden, listened from a front pew. Their mother's closed wooden casket rested in the church aisle, draped in a cream-colored, brocade-trimmed shawl that the monsignor said represented Easter, Resurrection and Mary's eternal life.
"She loved so much," David said. "She loved her family, she loved her children. I think that with changing circumstances, she couldn't find a way to continue to love."
Mary's casket was carried by pallbearers that included Robert F. Kennedy Jr., their children, Robert's two grown children from his first marriage and hotelier Andre Balazs.
Kennedy family mourners included Mary's mother-in-law Ethel Kennedy, Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy. Celebrities Chevy Chase, John McEnroe, Edward James Olmos, Dan Aykroyd, Paul Shaffer, Larry David, Susan Sarandon, Glenn Close and ex-Ranger Mike Richter also were in attendance.
The Kennedys buried Mary in Centerville, Mass. near the family's famed Hyannisport compound. The Richardson family, however, do not want that to be her final resting place because of the contentious divorce and custody battle. They are planning a private memorial service on Monday at the Standard Hotel in Manhattan, which is owned by Balazs.
Mary's brother, attorney Thomas Richardson, petitioned the State Supreme Court in White Plains Thursday for custody of her remains. Friday, the judge ruled in favor of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., clearing the way for her funeral and burial.
Mary's siblings, embroiled in a bitter dispute with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. did not attend the service.
In his closing remarks Saturday, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. broke down again as he urged everyone to "do what she would want us to do, which is to love each other, be kind to each other."