Members of the Kennedy clan were summoned to the family's compound in Hyannis Port Tuesday night to say tearful farewells to the man remembered today as an icon of American politics but known to them as Uncle Teddy.
In keeping with a family tradition, they gathered around the bed of Sen. Ted Kennedy to pray.
The Rev. Patrick Tarrant, who was present with the family during those final hours, said he was impressed by Kennedy's spirituality and faith in his last moments.
The priest said family members were crying and that in his final moments Kennedy was "a man of quiet prayer."
"The truth is, he had expressed to his family that he did want to go," Tarrant told WCVB, ABC News' Boston affiliate. "He did want to go to heaven. He did want to die... He was ready to go.
"There was a certain amount peace -- a lot of peace, actually -- in the family get-together last night. I couldn't help but think that the world doesn't know that part of the senator at all," Tarrant said.
He said Kennedy's wife Vicki, his children and other family members were there.
"They were there and they were very prayerful and reverent and of course, crying," Tarrant said. "Of course they were aware that the very sick, the sense of hearing is the last thing to go. So, whatever is said around the sick bed is always heard by the patient ... and they were very well aware of it. They let him know how much he was loved and cared for and missed. It was quite an experience, for me."
The Roman Catholic priest, who presides at Our Lady of Victory Church and has ministered to the family for years, was called to Kennedy's bedside when he took a "serious turn for the worse" between 9 and 10 p.m. Tuesday.
Kennedy died about 11:30 p.m. comforted by his family, he said.
"I was there last night when he died and the whole family were praying. They'd been praying all day, and it was a wonderful experience for me. I don't see it that often," Tarrant said. "It's commendable."
The reverend said he had seen the Kennedy family's religion at a death bed scene before and recalled how Ted Kennedy led a similar vigil at the bedside of his sister Eunice just two weeks ago.
"I couldn't help but think that the world doesn't know that part of the senator at all," he said.
Officials prepared for an elaborate and emotional farewell to Kennedy. He will lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston on Thursday and Friday, followed by a funeral at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, also in Boston, on Saturday. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetary Saturday evening.
The death of the 77-year-old senator ended a year-long bout with brain cancer. Much of the country had been holding its breath as the senator battled for his life in recent days, too ill to return to Washington to join the debate over health care reform, one of Kennedy's most passionate issues over the past 30 years.