Michael Kennedy's tragic, and sadly fatal, skiing accident in 1997 is one that the world will never forget, especially Kathie Lee Gifford. In the TV personality's new memoir, It’s Never Too Late, the former Today show host shared an intimate moment she had with Ethel Kennedy in the hospital after her son's final moments.
Michael, the late son of senator Robert F. Kennedy — who was assassinated in 1968 — slammed into a tree while skiing in Aspen, Colo., with his famous family and was pronounced dead on New Year’s Eve. Though Michael had recently split from Gifford's stepdaughter, Vicki, the families remained close, and Kathie Lee was there as a shoulder to cry on.
Gifford detailed the heartbroken mother’s last moments with her son in her revealing new book. “She was grieving so deeply that she couldn’t move,” Gifford told PEOPLE. “She was literally paralyzed with grief.”
Gifford wrote in her new memoir that she found herself “standing directly across from Ethel Kennedy, still in her ski suit but disheveled, with her jacket hanging from her waist. The look on her face was one of utter and total shock.
“My God, I thought, how much more can one woman take?” Gifford continued. “I quietly walked over to her and embraced her and whispered how sorry I was. She had always been very candid that Michael was her favorite child of the eleven she had born. And now, he, too, was gone.”
Ethel was completely silent and didn’t “cry a tear,” she wrote, noting that the grieving mother refused “to leave her son’s lifeless body, shaking her head adamantly when anyone came in to try to convince her to depart.”
It was then that Gifford leaned on her faith to comfort the distraught widow and mother. After praying silently to herself, the former Live With Regis and Kathie Lee host turned to Ethel and recited a Bible verse to her: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” she recalls in her book.
“What did you say?” Gifford remembered Ethel asking her.
She went on to explain the meaning of the passage. Gifford then “gently squeezed Ethel’s arm and left the room,” she wrote. “Marveling yet again at God and how He works through His Word."
The former TV talker is a firm believer in her faith and added that 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.”
Gifford's new memoir, It's Never Too Late: Make the Next Act of Your Life the Best Act of Your Life, is available now.