Grief-stricken Jackie contemplated suicide to join JFK, says priest who comforted her

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The former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy was so consumed with grief at the loss of her husband that she contemplated suicide as a means of rejoining him, according to a Catholic priest in whom she confided after President John F Kennedy was assassinated.

This poignant new glimpse of Mrs Kennedy emerges from excerpts of the diaries of Richard McSorley, a Jesuit priest and professor of theology at Georgetown University, which have just been made public, shortly before the 40th anniversary of JFK's assassination on 22 November 1963.

Father McSorley had been asked to help Mrs Kennedy by JFK's brother Bobby, who was worried about his sister-in-law's state of mind after her loss. At Bobby's suggestion, the priest asked her to play tennis, and some of the conversations took place on the court.

"Do you think God would separate me from my husband if I tried to kill myself?," she asked Father McSorley, according to the entry for 28 April 1964. "I feel that I am going out of my mind at times. Wouldn't God understand that I just want to be with him?"

The diary suggests Mrs Kennedy was prone to wild mood swings during the months after JFK's death. On one occasion she assured him that she would never take her life. But a day earlier on 19 May 1964, according to Father McSorley, she said "she would be glad if her taking her life set off a wave of suicides because she was glad to see people get out of their misery. 'I was glad that Marilyn Monroe got out of her misery,' she said."

The crisis had clearly passed by the summer. In a letter dated 15 July 1964, Mrs Kennedy thanked the priest "for all you did for me this spring". Her religious convictions, she wrote, were now "to keep busy and keep healthy ­ so that you can do all that you should for your children. And go to bed very early at night so that you don't have time to think."

In one haunting moment, Mrs Kennedy told Father McSorley of her regret that she had not done more to make JFK happy before his death. "I was melancholy after the death of our baby," the diary quotes her as saying, a reference to their prematurely born son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who was two days old when he died on 9 August 1963.

"I stayed away ... longer than I needed to. I could have made his life so much happier especially for the last few weeks."