Kathie Lee Gifford has opened up about consoling Ethel Kennedy at her late son Michael’s bedside after he was pronounced dead following a tragic skiing accident on New Year’s Eve in 1997.
The former Today co-host wrote about the heartbreaking moment in her new book It’s Never Too Late: Make the Next Act of Your Life the Best Act of Your Life, which was published on Tuesday.
‘She was grieving so deeply that she couldn’t move,’ Kathie, 67, told People. ‘She was literally paralyzed with grief.’
Loss: Kathie Lee Gifford wrote about consoling Ethel Kennedy after her son Michael’s death in her new book, It’s Never Too Late: Make the Next Act of Your Life the Best Act of Your Life
Heartbreak: According to Kathie, Ethel (pictured at Michael’s funeral in 1998) ‘did not say a word’ and ‘did not cry a tear’ in the hospital, but she refused ‘to leave her son’s lifeless body’
Michael, who was the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, passed away at age 39 after skiing into a tree while playing football with several members of his family during a holiday vacation in Aspen, Colorado.
Kathie Lee’s stepdaughter, Vicki Gifford, was married to Michael, though they had just recently separated after the shocking revelation that he had an affair with the family’s teenage babysitter.
In her book, the author recalled heading to the hospital with her late husband Frank Gifford and his oldest daughter, who was devastated by the loss.
‘Vicki heaved heartbroken tears,’ Kathie wrote.
‘She had loved Michael since she was fifteen years old, and although he had betrayed her and left her emotionally destroyed, she had never wished him harm,’ she noted. ‘She would always love him.’
Tragedy: Michael (pictured with Kathie) was pronounced dead at age 39 on New Year’s Eve in 1997 after he skied into a tree while on a family vacation in Aspen, Colorado
Awful” Kathie said Ethel had the same look of shock on her face at Michael’s bedside as she did when her husband Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. They’re pictured that year
When they arrived at the hospital, Kathie wrote that they saw Ethel standing outside of Michael’s room, still in her ski outfit, looking ‘disheveled, with her jacket hanging from her waist.’
‘The look on her face was one of utter and total shock,’ recalled Kathie, who said Ethel had the same look as she did right after her husband was assassinated in 1968.
‘I wish I could erase it from my memory, but I can’t,’ she wrote. ‘My God, I thought, how much can one woman take?’
‘I quietly walked over to her and embraced her and whispered how sorry I was,’ Kathie continued. ‘She had always been very candid that Michael was her favorite child of the eleven she had born. And now, he, too, was gone.’
According to Kathie’s account in the book, Ethel ‘did not say a word’ and ‘did not cry a tear,’ but she refused ‘to leave her son’s lifeless body, shaking her head adamantly when anyone came in to try to convince her to depart.’
Words: Kathie recalled whispering a Bible verse to Ethel that she took comfort in, saying: ‘To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.’ They’re pictured together in 1998
Relatives: Kathie’s stepdaughter, Vicki Gifford (front row, center), was married to Michael when he died, though they were separated following his affair with their teenage babysitter
‘I looked at Frank as if to ask, “What are we going to do?”‘ she wrote. ‘He looked at me helplessly. He had known Ethel for years and knew that no one could get Ethel Kennedy to do anything she wasn’t ready to do.’
Kathie said she prayed silently to herself before turning to Ethel and whispering a Bible verse to her: To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.’
Before she could explain the verse, she recalled how Ethel replied: ‘What did you say?’ Then Frank ‘signaled to me that I should leave so he could be there with her when she finally said goodbye to her cherished son for the last time.’
Kathie wrote that she ‘gently squeezed her [Ethel’s] arm and left the room, marveling yet again at God and how He works through His Word.’
She believes the Bible verse contained ‘the only words that could comfort her heart long enough to give her the strength to move away from her beloved son.’
Opening up: Kathie that her late husband Frank Gifford’s daughter Vicki (center left) gave her permission to write about the tragic death of her husband Michael
Love: ‘She had loved Michael since she was fifteen years old, and although he had betrayed her and left her emotionally destroyed, she had never wished him harm,’ Kathie wrote of Vicki
‘Ethel is someone who’s had religion her whole life,’ Kathie told People. ‘And so [God had] been a huge part of her life, but she’d never heard the scripture before that I shared with her in the book…It changed her life.’
The former Today star appeared on the show on Tuesday to promote her new book, saying she finally felt ‘free’ to…