A Look At Jackie Kennedy's End-Of-Life Ritual Meant To Bury Her Past

The life of Jackie Kennedy was chic, influential, and devastatingly tragic — and, as she approached the end of her life in the early 1990s, she began ritualistically destroying remnants of the soaring highs and sinking lows of her past. Details of these rituals were kept secret by biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli until 2023 at the request of the members of her inner circle.

On the surface, the former first lady was a gregarious fashion icon who popularized countless trends and designers that remain timeless today. But beneath her vogue exterior, she was a widow living with PTSD, never to be the same after her husband, former President John F. Kennedy, died. His assassination mere inches away from her occurred in 1963, something from which she would later say she never fully recovered, even up to her death in 1994. 

Indeed, her life story was both glamorous and galvanizing, luxurious and languished — which makes her end-of-life ritual all the more heartbreakingly alluring.

A biography reveals never-before-seen details of Jackie Kennedy's life

Though Jackie Kennedy's time as first lady ended in 1963, her influence over the public did not. She continued to delight the masses with her style and charm throughout her second marriage to Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate who would give Jackie Kennedy her new moniker, Jackie O. But, according to J. Randy Taraborrelli's biography, "Jackie: Public, Private, and Secret" (via People), she also shared a brief affair with Jack Warnecke, the architect who designed JFK's Arlington National Cemetery memorial gravesite. 

Warnecke shared details of his affair with the public figure to Taraborrelli under the condition that the author wouldn't publicize the story until 10 years after he died. Warnecke died in 2010, and the story finally moved into the light. The architect recalled spending time with the former first lady shortly after JFK's death, much to the dismay of her friends and her brother-in-law, Bobby Kennedy. He described a woman unsure of whether she wanted to be alone or in an affair. Ultimately, a phone call Warnecke made to her to disclose his million-dollar debt would end their short-lived relationship. 

That is, until early 1994, two months before Jackie O. would die from the lymphoma that had metastasized to her brain and spinal cord. On this day, she invited Warnecke to her apartment to participate in her solemn and highly secret ritual by the fireplace.

Jackie Kennedy spent her final days destroying remnants of her past

Jack Warnecke recounted the visit to J. Randy Taraborrelli, describing the former first lady in her silk pajamas and chenille sweater as she sat by the fireplace of her Fifth Avenue apartment. Jackie held Warnecke to the same secrecy he would later ask of the biographer, and the ritual began. Warnecke told Taraborelli (via People), "As I took my seat, Jackie handed me a stack of envelopes neatly tied together with yarn. My presence that evening was part of a ritual. Every night that week, she was inviting a trusted friend or family member to her home to take part in it."

The stack of envelopes contained family memorabilia and personal correspondence, including letters from Jackie's children, her husbands, and her father. There were also photographs of Jackie and JFK on his Inauguration Day, which she asked Warnecke to keep. Jackie read each letter in the pile before placing it into the fireplace. Once each piece of paper was burned, the ritual was over, and Warnecke left. 

One month later, Warnecke recalled speaking to Jackie for the last time over the phone. He told her that he had always loved her, to which Jackie replied, "That's such a lovely thing to say, Jack. Thank you. I'd like to just leave it there if I may." The following month, Jackie O would enter the ranks of larger-than-life historical figures who left before her, cementing her place as a defining member of American mid-century history and culture.