Monday, October 17, 2016

Rosemary - The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

That beautiful face on the cover belongs to Rosemary Kennedy, one of nine children of Joe Sr. and Rose Kennedy.  I'm at a loss for words here when it comes to characterizing this book.  Many passages angered me, others had me choking back tears.  Existing side by side with some appalling societal attitudes and labels given to cognitively delayed persons  are moments of pure triumph.

A judgment call on the past of a labor nurse during Rose Kennedy's delivery of Rosemary may have resulted in the baby's delayed development.  That charge has been discussed, but apparently never addressed in any legal capacity that the biographer could uncover.  In simplest terms, Rosemary was delayed, but she could read, she could write, and she participated in family events along with the rest of the children.  When it came to Rosemary's education, her parents worked to find schools, and other opportunities that would allow her to move through the system at a normal pace while receiving private attention where needed.  

Rosemary was not "hidden" as the title suggests until the middle period of her life.  In fact, she was even presented to the King and Queen of England during the much celebrated "coming out" season. She functioned at such occasions with grace. Change was rough on Rosemary, and years of shifting schools caused her to lash out frequently, becoming uncooperative and backsliding in her abilities.  Eventually, without consulting family members, Joe Sr. decided that a lobotomy should be performed.  

This disastrous surgery led to permanent hospitalization for Rosemary along with the need to regain motor skills.  Speech therapy recovered basic communication skills, but she never progressed much beyond baby talk.  

Stunning details of disabled individuals housed in rat infested hospitals where they were  not fed properly and were often sexually abused by staff fill the pages.  Medical professionals defined them as "idiots", "imbeciles" or "morons" depending on their IQ, and the Catholic Church called them "genetic accidents" and would not administer Communion or confirmation to them.  Sickening.

The author bravely weaves in details on blatant dysfunction within the Kennedy family, painting unflattering picturesof both Joe and Rose.  The real hero of the story is Eunice Kennedy who became her sister's best friend and advocate.  At Eunice's urging, JFK enacted legislation that began long overdue advances in medical care for the disabled, and in educational reform to address special needs individuals.  Without Rosemary, and without Eunice and their influential family, I wonder how and when these changes would have been initiated.

Put aside the historical context.  Don't dwell on the personal Kennedy family matters.  Read this book as a celebration of two women, both who struggled and who, in the end raised the bar for everyone when it comes to accepting and caring for all persons in our lives.

Thanks for stopping by.