In many ways, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jr., is one of the most shocking moments in American history. It changed the course of a nation as surely as it changed who was leading that nation, and it left everyone stunned at the idea that the most powerful man in the world could be killed in the space of a heartbeat.
Of course, nobody was more stunned than JFK’s wife, Jackie Kennedy. She was there by his side when her husband died, and she was left forever traumatized by what happened. And, of course, she will always remember the final words that she shared with her husband.
Just what were those final words, and how did Jackie react to the horrifying murder of JFK? Keep reading to find out!
Jackie’s up-close-and-personal view of JFK’s final moments
The assassination of JFK would have been shocking to Jackie Kennedy under any circumstances. However, what made everything that much worse is that she was traveling in the presidential motorcade with her famous husband when the attack happened.
At the time, Jackie looked radiant in her pink Chanel dress and famous pillbox hat. And JFK looked like exactly what he was: a beloved leader happy to be so close to the people who adored him. Neither of them could have predicted how horrifyingly vulnerable they were when driving in a convertible Lincoln Continental…and by the time the attack happened, it was too late to save JFK.
A woman left traumatized by what she had seen
Jackie was obviously stunned by what had happened. And she was understandably traumatized a few days later when she gave an interview to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Theodore H. White. It was during this interview that Jackie spoke openly for the first time about what really happened that day.
However, one of the things that White noted was not just what Jackie was saying but how her trauma affected her emotions. As recorded in the book Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story, he wrote that “it was all told tearlessly, her wide eyes not even seeing me, a recitative to herself.”
Jackie’s trauma was instantly apparent to White. And the more she’d later share about what happened, the more we can understand why the details of this day are forever burned into her brain.
The gory details of JFK’s final moments
Of all the things that made witnessing her husband’s death so horrific, Jackie was particularly traumatized by how quickly she went from thinking nothing was wrong to dealing with an unthinkable catastrophe. According to the book These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack with Jackie, she couldn’t immediately tell anything was wrong with her husband right after he was shot. “He looked puzzled,” she said. “I remember he looked as if he had a slight headache.”
From there, everything went to hell. She recounted how “I could see a piece of his skull coming off. It was flesh-colored, not white. He was holding out his hand and I could see this perfectly clean piece detaching itself from his head. Then he slumped in my lap.”
If that’s not harrowing enough, she soon gave a horrifying update to the other passengers in the car. “I have his brains … in my hands,” she said between screams.
A grisly moment that everyone misunderstood
The assassination of JFK has been scrutinized for years. From the footage of the event and assorted photos, the public has drawn many conclusions. But some of those conclusions are incorrect, especially when it comes to Jackie’s own motives for what she was doing.
For example, there is a moment where she lunged towards the back of the car. Many who have seen this assume she is trying to get out, which would be an understandable reaction to getting shot at. But according to PBS, she was frantically trying to retrieve pieces of JFK’s skull, though she has no conscious memory of doing so.
Jackie’s sweet final words to JFK
In those terrible moments, Jackie Kennedy faced the kind of moment that everyone in a relationship dreads: seeing the person you love die right in front of you. What would you say, then, if you only had a few seconds to tell someone how they really feel?
Jackie’s final words to her husband at this moment provide a moment of sweetness and joy amid national tragedy. According to the book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, her final words to JFK were, “Jack, Jack, Jack. Can you hear me? I love you, Jack.”
We can only hope that JFK was able to hear and understand what his wife was saying before he passed away. And Jackie’s reaction to the shocking attack and murder of her husband serves as a stark reminder that so many chapters in our national history are written in blood.