Maria Shriver has long sought to protect her privacy as California's first lady, but on Tuesday she offered an extraordinary public evocation of her grief two months after the death of her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
During a luncheon session at the Women's Conference she chaired in Long Beach, Shriver told attendees that she stood before them "with a broken heart." Although she tells people that she is holding up well, "the real truth is that I'm not fine.
"The real truth is that my mother's death has brought me to my knees," she told a crowd of thousands in the Long Beach Arena. "She was my hero, my role model, my very best friend. I spoke to her every single day of my life. I tried really hard when I grew up to make her proud of me."
Her mother, she said, called after every television appearance, on her shows -- Shriver worked for NBC until her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, became governor -- or appearances elsewhere.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver died in August after years of fading health. But Maria Shriver said she was so confident in her mother's indomitable will that she was stunned at her death.
Shriver said she begged her mother, in her final moments, to somehow stay in contact. She believes she has, via a former nun who approached Shriver the day after the Massachusetts funeral to give her prayer cards from Mother Teresa -- a friend of Eunice Shriver's.
Shriver said she watched as the woman waded fully clothed into the Atlantic, just as her mother often had -- and then joined in.
Shriver's comments came at the beginning of a conference session on grief that had been scheduled before her mother's death. The panel included Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, whose son Wade died 14 years ago; actress Susan Saint James, whose teenage son Teddy died five years ago; and dancer Lisa Niemi, whose husband, actor Patrick Swayze, died Sept. 14.
The session was tearful but Shriver drew laughs as well when she referred to her "infamous" cellphone, the one she was recently photographed using while driving -- in violation of a law signed by her husband.
She has promised to donate the cellphone to needy women, but she still had it 10 days ago when she appeared on NBC's "Meet The Press." She left the stage there and looked to the phone in her hand -- "I wasn't driving," she said wryly -- expecting her mother to call.
"It was the first time," Shriver said, "I hadn't had a call from my mother."