Friday, August 12, 2005

In Memory of Rosemary Kennedy

It's been awhile since I've posted anything. I've been quite busy doing all sorts of things. I've been working on my websites and talking with people online alot but I wanted to share a memory of a woman that has been quite misunderstood, I believe and has not had the proper attention she rightfully should have. That woman was the eldest daughter of Joe Kennedy and the sister of John and Robert Kennedy. Her name was Rosemary Kennedy.

I've read some bits and pieces online regarding the life of Rosemary Kennedy. It’s really hard to find anything written about this wonderfully unique person. She was the oldest sister of President John F. Kennedy and considered the inspiration for the Special Olympics. She died on Friday Jan. 7, 2005 at age 86.

The story of Rosemary Kennedy’s life, gets a bit unclear to me when I try to piece together all of the tiny snippets that have been written about her. Rosemary was said (in the majority of the articles I’ve read) to be "mentally retarded" and was LOBOTOMIZED when she was 23. What very few of these articles bring up is the fact that her father, Joseph Kennedy had this done secretly and afterward told the family that Rosemary had went to a monastery to live her life for God. Instead, he put her in an institution to live out the rest of her life. (Supposedly, even her own mother did not know until 20 years after the fact!)

I read this online about Rosemary: "In 1918 Rosemary Kennedy was born. This girl had serious mental problems, so that her father was forced to make her pass a lobotomy, hoping to give her a life as "normal" as possible.The lobotomy, on the contrary, took Rosemary’s all capability to interact with the surrounding environment, condemning her to a sort of autism all her life long. "

Really nice of them how they not only demean Rosemary but also Autistics by the talk of “condemning her” to a sort of Autism all of her life. The majority of my family has autism or traits of autism so I find this sort of thing quite offensive, to say the least. We are not "condemned to autism" anymore than anyone else is condemned for being neurotypical. I do wonder to myself if Rosemary Kennedy did perhaps have traits of Autism that definately would not be acceptable to her lousy parents. Other online bits and pieces say that (before the lobotomy) she had become “uncontrollable” for her father Joseph and that her unacceptable behavior was the reason he had her frontal lobes scraped out. Rosemary had moments (again, before the lobotomy) it is stated, where she would stare at inanimate objects for long periods of time and had outbursts that were seen as possible seizures. Sounds a bit like autistic traits to me. She was 23 when her father took her to have this "procedure" done. I cannot tell you how upset this makes me. Just from what little I have read, I get an impression that Rosemary could possibly have been on the Autistic spectrum but of course, I cannot say for sure with this little bit of information that has been allotted to tell the story of this unique individual.

One thing that stands out to me and makes me admire her are the accounts of her non-conformist ways. It's interesting (to me, at least) that her name is used on a School for children with varied "Disabilities" and that ABA treatments (for children with autism) are commonplace at this school. Anyone that knows me well knows that Applied Behavioral Analysis is on my list of torture treatments for Autistic children – I think it’s wrong to force a child to pretend to be something she/he is not and ABA seems to thrive on changing the unique autistic individual into little neurotypical drones that mimic what is considered normal behavior. These autistic children are expected to live without ever really understanding why others see them as “broken”. Eventually, many of them (us) grow up having to deal with deep depression caused by never being allowed to be free to be yourself.

I’m sure a life with a controlling & immoral father, an indifferent & prudish mother and super-ambitious and competitive siblings was very hard to deal with especially if Rosemary did have autistic traits that were suppressed and frowned upon.

Poor Rosemary, we may never truly know what things she could have told us.....Joseph made sure he kept his little girl’s views silenced. Here are some other facts that just don’t seem to add up. Diagnosed as mildly handicapped at birth (at birth?) but good at sports, she reportedly fit comfortably into social settings, where she was perceived as shy. Joe Kennedy’s oldest daughter Rosemary, was considered shy and mentally limited - symptoms of what many suspect in present time, as dyslexia but what I feel could also be traits of autism. For years the family had dealt with the problem by sending her away to various special schools and convents.

By age twenty-one she had deteriorated greatly, giving way to tantrums, rages and violent behavior. (Possibly melt-downs from stress?) Rosemary was beginning to understand that she would never measure up to her closest siblings, and the resulting frustration led to physical fights and, worse, long absences at night when she would be wandering the streets.

I can imagine that Rosemary was seen as a liability to the family's political ambitions, and in1942, Joe moved to deal with the problem. Without telling anyone, not even her mother, he arranged for his oldest daughter to have a prefrontal lobotomy at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. (Rosemary thought she was just being taken for a routine physical exam and it has been reported that no anesthetic was given to Rosemary, the patient.) The experimental operation was believed to work wonders with people who had emotional problems. In Rosemary's case it was a disaster and left her permanently disabled, paralyzed on one side, incontinent and unable to speak coherently. She was never allowed to return home, but instead was spirited away to St. Coletta's School in Wisconsin. Joe kept the operation secret from her mother for the next 20 years, it is said. The lobotomy exacerbated Rosemary’s condition. As a result, her family placed her in an institution anyway for a period of years before sending her to a special boarding school in 1949. The Kennedy family was deeply embarrassed by her condition, hiding it from the public until the 1960s.
Pearl Buck’s book about her own daughter, Carol, finally encouraged Rose Kennedy to talk publicly about her daughter Rosemary.

Rosemary's fate and how it was handled was the ultimate Kennedy deception. As late as 1958 the family was maintaining the fiction that Rosemary had become a quasi nun in Wisconsin, content to renounce the glamorous world of her siblings to teach less fortunate children. Today the official family version is that she was born “retarded”, and that only her mother's “Herculean” efforts had made it possible for her to appear normal. I believe that maybe she wasn't so much wanting to measure up to her siblings as many people have observed. Perhaps she didn't approve of her family members win/win mentality and wanted to go a different path but was not allowed to do such a thing. Possibly her frustrated tantrums were more of a melt-down from the pressure to be what she was not. Many folks on the spectrum can be quite social (maybe not social in the way others/parents would like them to act) and quite a few seem shy when actually they're just trying to understand the "game" of social protocol (this was the way I was).

When overwhelmed by the pressures of daily living, many autistic children and adults do have melt-downs that may look to others like a temper tantrum but actually is more of a kind of sensory overload. When I was young, this could have been my life they were talking about. When things got to be a little too much for me at home, you could find me walking/pacing up and down the streets of my neighborhood....this helped to calm me and keep me from “melt-down mode”. Rosemary’s tragic life just haunts me as I can see many parallels in my own life to her tragic life.

Rosemary’s mother said Rosemary was slow at crawling, walking and talking. Rosemary had three known diaries that she wrote in, in which she talked about the parties she attended and such things that young girls write about. The secretary to Rose Kennedy (the mother) kept them even though Rosemary's mother told her to "throw them in the trash." Throw them in the trash!? Some loving mother, eh?

Rosemary worried that her father did not love her and in a letter she wrote to her father, even mentioned that she was sorry her father thought that she was "fat" (her own words). Her family mentioned that she would become anxious about her siblings with their aggressive ambitions (some even saying that she was jealous of her siblings). To me, this doesn't sound like the thoughts of someone that is mildly or severely "retarded" - ALSO, have you noticed how many articles use this outdated and very politically incorrect/slanderous word “retarded” to describe Rosemary? This word is not used anymore to describe challenged individuals and yet, it is considered a perfectly good way to describe Rosemary Kennedy? How strange.

It's like, the old man (Joseph) couldn't control Rosemary the way he wanted to do so he had her "controlled" - what a horrible thing to do to your own child. I cannot understand this type of ambition. Thank goodness I cannot fathom such things. Such a barbaric measure all for the sake of control. In the present day, I really think of ABA (control) application that is an accepted proceedure of the Cure Autism Now groups being used on many autistic children today to be just as cruelly manipulative. Maybe in the future, Applied Behavioral Analysis will seem just as barbaric as lobotomy seems in todays world.

What is so sad about Rosemary’s early life is this type of behavior in a young girl now-a-days might get her some counseling, but in the “bad old days” they basically removed part of your brain for being disruptive and “too hard to handle”.

Another article said: "In the 1940s, there was an American magazine which was trumpeting a new cure for anti-social behavior. This now discredited surgical operation was called prefrontal lobotomy or leukotomy, in which the nerves connecting the frontal lobe to the higher centres of the brain were cut. The procedure, invented by a Portuguese surgeon, won him a Nobel Prize.

Lots of supposedly anti-social people were 'cured' by this operation. As it turned out, the operation destroyed the personality and left the victims emotional zombies. One woman said that after the operation her daughter was present physically but her soul was somewhere else.

Troublemakers among the rich and famous were often subjected to the operation. Rosemary Kennedy, sister of JFK, was given a lobotomy on the orders of her dad, Joseph Kennedy the article states. The result was so awful that she was confined to a mental institution for the rest of her life. Frances Farmer, a famously beautiful actress, was thought by her parents to be too unruly. 'She was a radical political activist, communist sympathiser and of a rebellious and aggressive nature. After several squabbles with the authorities, in 1942 she was wrongfully declared 'mentally incompetent' and was committed by her parents to various asylums where all therapies failed to tame her into 'normalcy'. In 1948, her parents ordered a lobotomy. "She was released in 1953 from the hospital, no longer a threat to society.' -" Renato ME Sabbatini, PhD, The History of Psychosurgery, Brain & Mind magazine, June 1997.

I cannot believe they gave this jerk, this quack-doctor a Nobel Prize! Just to think of how many autistic people, free-thinkers and radically different minds would have been up for this type of "surgery" if we would have lived in 1942. Sheeze, and they wonder why there were no cases of Autism and Aspergers until now.....I think I'm beginning to see why.

In decades past, mental institutions were used as places to dispose of compliant (and possibly not so compliant) male and female family members who were an embarrassment or a problem to others in the family.

Lastly, I must bring up the most suspicious, confusing and conflicting part about this whole ordeal with the Kennedy’s.
It is this; The Doctor that performed the lobotomy - Dr. Walter Freeman, did NOT perform this type of operation on those patients that were said to be retarded/handicapped. Dr. Freeman only used this barbaric "procedure" on those that were with depression, obsessive compulsive disorders and other neurological challenges (this is what Dr. Freeman's very own son has said).

This really throws a wrench into the whole story fabricated by the Kennedy family and their statement that Rosemary Kennedy was retarded!

The reason I feel the need to keep dear Rosemary in mind I suppose, is that in remembering the past, hopefully we will not repeat these horrors against other human beings, in the future.

In fact, if her condition was in any way related to autism, I have been told that a lobotomy might indeed increase the severity of the condition. it has been suggested that autism might be related to problems coordinating between lobes. At least one type of lobotomy (I’ve heard of) involves cutting the corpus callosum, the bridge between the hemispheres.

The sad and scary truth is that Lobotomies are still performed today in this enlightened age, but they are much rarer due to the popularity of drugs.

Now a-days complacency can be achieved with antipsychotics. Risperdal and Zyprexa and with time, apathia and indifference takes away the high functioning part of the brain just as effectively as the brain scraping of yesteryear. So, in this way, many doctor prescribed drugs can have the same effects as a lobotomy – the drugs being preferred to do the job, instead of surgery.

Rosemary, I cannot help but think that if your family would have left you to become the person you were meant to be, you would have been the greatest Kennedy that ever lived.

In my humble opinion dear Rosemary, you are the one Kennedy that I feel is worth remembering with respect and honor. Rest in Peace, you will not be forgotten by me.