By Jennifer Calfas
August 26, 2018

Arizona Sen. John McCain’s incalculable legacy could perhaps best be described by those closest to him: his family.

Upon his death Saturday at age 81, McCain’s family honored the senator’s life in emotional statements that reflected on his impact and offered words of encouragement for his supporters.

“All that I am is thanks to him. Now that he is gone, the task of my lifetime is to live up to his example, his expectations, and his love,” his daughter Meghan McCain said in a statement shared on Twitter.

“My father is gone, and I miss him as only an adoring daughter can. But in this loss, and in this sorrow, I take comfort in this: John McCain, hero of the republic and to his little girl, wakes today to something more glorious than anything on this earth.”

“My heart is broken. I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years,” his wife Cindy McCain said on Twitter. “He passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people loved, in the place he loved best.”

Since the senator announced his cancer diagnosis last summer, the McCain family has described his strength — and their own — throughout his battle against the devastating disease, and thanked his supporters for their kinds words. From the initial diagnosis to the news Friday that he would no longer seek treatment for glioblastoma, they have spoken of his resilience and positivity — even as he received criticism from some, including President Donald Trump.

His wife, Cindy McCain, and daughter, Meghan McCain, have been the most vocal family members about the senator’s battle with cancer. They both used their platforms on Twitter to support and defend McCain, and Meghan often commented on what her family was going through as a host on ABC’s The View. They shared updates on everything from McCain’s first round of radiation and chemotherapy back in August 2017 (“His resilience & strength is incredible,” Meghan tweeted), to thankful messages on particularly difficult days (“God bless everyone who has cared for my husband along this journey,” Cindy tweeted Friday).

Just two days after McCain announced his diagnosis last July, his daughter tweeted an image of the two of them enjoying a view on a hike in Arizona.

The senator appeared on The View alongside his daughter a few months later on her birthday in October, giving her a framed photo of the two of them on that hike. “I love you so much,” Meghan said through tears.

“I’m the luckiest person in the entire world. We are such a family that’s filled with blessings. We have such a bond and such a love,” she said. “I’m so grateful for that. A lot of people don’t have that with their parents.”

Heidi Gutman—ABC via Getty Images

But while most politicians, fans and constituents of the senator offered words of support throughout the past year, some criticized McCain’s legacy — and his ailing health.

In May, former White House aide Kelly Sadler reportedly said in a closed-door meeting that McCain’s opposition to the president’s nominee for the director of the CIA at the time “doesn’t matter” because “he’s dying anyway.”

Meghan McCain quickly responded to the startling news on The View.

“Kelly, here’s a little newsflash — and this may be a bit intense for 11 o’clock in the morning on a Friday — but we’re all dying. I’m dying, you’re dying, we’re all dying,” she said on The View. “I really feel like I understand the meaning of life, and it is not how you die. It is how you live.”

And Cindy took to Twitter in an attempt to request empathy: “May I remind you my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren,” she tweeted at Sadler, who later left her position in the White House.

Presidential candidate John McCain (L) and his wife, Cindy McCain, smile for the camera at their family ranch, March 9, 2000 near Sedona, Arizona.
David Hume Kennerly—Getty Images

Most notably, perhaps, was the senator’s contentious relationship with Trump. The two Republicans have criticized one another on a variety of issues over the years. Before Trump took office, he said he did not consider McCain a war hero because he was captured in Vietnam. Back in September 2017, Trump repeatedly criticized McCain for voting against the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act — a dramatic and memorable moment in the Senate when McCain motioned his intended vote with a thumbs down, eliciting audible gasps, just days after he announced his cancer diagnosis.

“What more must my family be put through right now?” Meghan tweeted in September. “This is abhorrent.”

Trump continued his criticism of McCain’s vote at the Conservative Action Conference (CPAC) in February — months after the fact. “What a mess,” he said.

“We need more compassion,” Cindy responded on an episode of The View with her daughter. “We need more empathy. We need more togetherness… we don’t need more bullying and I’m tired of it.”

Weeks before McCain’s death, the senator called Trump’s controversial joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

Through how McCain lived his life, Meghan said she has learned innumerable lessons on leadership, sacrifice, patriotism, and temperament.

“Character matters, and believing in something greater than yourself will always be important,” Meghan said of the lessons she learned from her father while sitting alongside him on The View last year. “[He’s taught me] to really respect and love America, and the people who sacrifice for us. America has always been great. It is always going to be great.”

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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