Posted by : Halima Khait Monday, March 14, 2016
What a difference a couple of days can make. Just last week, in my last post, I was telling you all how I was reading The Missing Kennedy: Rosemary Kennedy and the Secret Bonds of Four Women by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff. Since then, I've finished the book.
I really wish I could find the news article I read that made me aware of this book, because I'm sure it said it was on a bestseller list. I say this to say, the book wasn't bad, but the hype surrounding it was deceptive.
Let's start on the very basic level, the title. Yes, the book was about Rosemary Kennedy, but it was written by Koehler-Pentacoff, the much younger niece of Rosemary's caretaker. And yes, I knew this before reading the book, but I was under the assumption that Koehler-Pentacoff would provide better first hand knowledge. From her story, it appears she did visit with Rosemary at least once a month from a very early age, but the key words here are "from a very early age." Much of her personal experience lacked mature understanding of a complicated situation.
Koehler-Pentacoff did have access to some personal notes between her aunt, Rosemary's caretaker, and the Kennedy family, but most of her information, seems like it come through visits to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and interviews granted by Shriver family members who were not even born when the most intense decisions about Rosemary were being made.
If I'm being fair, this book seemed more like a memoir of the Koehler family with some basic similarities connecting it to the Kennedys and a lot of hypothetical situations dreamt up by Koehler-Pentacoff after a bit of factual information sparked her imagination.
So all that being said, I'm not really sure how to improve the title, but I always like giving bad news first, so I can end on a sweet note.
The best part of this book for me was the last part where Eunice Kennedy Shriver was really brought into the story. I summarized the book in my last post, but I need to back up to that for this next part to make sense. See, Rosemary had impaired learning, but was functional until Joe Kennedy, her father, approved a lobotomy to improve behavioral issues she was displaying. The sad part is, her outbursts were most likely simply a result of her family not giving her the independence she craved. At the time, lobotomies were relatively new procedures, so the doctors that performed Rosemary's botched it. Joe Kennedy, at the advice of doctors, decided it best to house Rosemary in medical facilities and not have the family visit as there was fear that disrupting Rosemary's daily routine would upset her too much. The family didn't know where Rosemary was living until 20 years later, when Joe Kennedy had a stroke and the facility contacted Rose Kennedy, his wife, in regards to Rosemary. After Rose Kennedy took over Rosemary's affairs, the Kennedy family was once again involved in Rosemary's life.
And this is where Eunice comes back into the picture. Her love and interaction with Rosemary inspired her to create a summer camp for special needs youth. This summer camp was not only the first of several more to follow, but it also was the beginning of the Special Olympics and the Shriver-Kennedy's involvement ensuring inclusion of the disabled on a national level.
At the end of the book, there's a quote from Anthony Shriver
She gave us the ability and sense of being neededAnd I think that was really the point of this story, how the circles of Rosemary's reach radiated from the inside out to inspire not only her direct family, but a nation. There's no secret in that and maybe that's my issue with the title. Maybe it'd be more appropriate to frame this story as, 'The Missing Kennedy: How Rosemary Kennedy Inspired a Nation."
Until next time...