Saturday, August 29, 2009

Shed A Tear For Eunice

A little more than two weeks ago, Eunice Kennedy Shriver died at 88. Upon her death, the Shriver family received a letter of condolence from Pope Benedict. When Teddy died this week, no such letter arrived in Hyannis Port.

Pope Benedict knows what all of America should know: That Eunice Kennedy Shriver devoted her life to the twin causes of special needs children and the rights of the unborn.

Eunice's devotion to special needs children can be traced back to her relationship with her sister Rosemary. Rosemary Kennedy was three years older than Eunice and was a special needs child. Unfortunately, she did not receive the help she needed at home and was sent off to an institution at age 23. In an act of unspeakable cruelty, Joseph Kennedy had a prefrontal lobotomy performed on Rosemary. (Admittedly, it seems sometimes that Ted was the one with the lobotomy.)

The family was told not to visit Rosemary, that it would be too upsetting to her. And that's how it was for a lot of families with special needs children in those days. It was something not talked about, you send the kid away and that was that.

But Eunice Kennedy did not go along with that kind of thinking. You see, Eunice did not forget her sister. She did not stay away. In fact, she regularly visited her sister-for over 60 years until Rosemary passed away in 2005.

From her visits with Rosemary, Eunice saw that you don't lock away special needs children and throw away the key. No, Eunice saw that you engage them, you hug them, and you love them.

Now Eunice could have attended charity dinners and written big checks on behalf of these kids.

But that was not her way. From the Washington Post:

I think that really the only way you change people's attitudes or behavior is to work with them," Eunice told an interviewer. "Not write papers or serve on committees. Who's going to work with the child to change him -- with the juvenile delinquent and the retarded? Who's going to teach them to swim? To catch a ball? You have to work with the person. It's quite simple, actually."

She was hands on. She began working on behalf of these children in the 1950's. In 1961, when he brother became President, she got him to devote tax dollars to study the causes of and more humane treatment of the mentally disabled. In 1962, she started a summer camp for mentally disabled children and also wrote a groundbreaking article in the Saturday Evening Post revealing Rosemary's story for the first time, and urging Americans that these children should be locked away and forgotten about.

The summer camp Eunice started eventually grew into what is her greatest known legacy: the Special Olympics competition which she founded. The first special Olympics took place in 1968. About 1,000 kids/adults participated, all from the United States. It has grown to where now 2.5 million participate, from 180 countries.

When the Special Olympics first began, people questioned Eunice on whether the athletes had the capabilities of dealing with losing. Here was Eunice's response, from the Washington Post:

Shriver told The Post in 1987 that she had "heard a lot of that" and that it was "a lot of baloney."
"What proof have they got that as a group of people they can't take losing?" she said. "Who? Where does it come from, that idea? Somebody cries because they lose? I can tell you 50 people who cry -- I go and watch my own kids cry when they lose."

You, see, to Eunice, kids were kids. Kennedy kids born in wealth- and disabled kids born into adversity- she saw no distinction. Each was a child of God.

While Eunice's work with Special Olympics is publicly known, her work on behalf of the right to life movement is not known by many. But if you think about it, is it really any surprise that someone who devoted so much of her heart to the disabled would also take up the cause of the most defenseless among us-the unborn?

A devout Catholic, Eunice was a member of several pro-life organizations, and was one of the few Democrats who spoke out against its abortion plank in its 1992 platform. In addition, in a letter to the New York Times, she denounced a pro-abortion group for misrepresenting John Kennedy's views on abortion.

Eunice is largely responsible with how America has changed in how we interact and understand those with special needs. She made their lives better. In addition, she was no lock- step liberal, who signed onto the culture of death. She put conscience ahead of party loyalty. What a legacy.

You know, when a Bishop turns 75, he must submit his resignation to the Pope. The Pope is free to accept or reject the resignation letter.

When Pope John Paul II received Cardinal O'Connor's (pictured with Eunice above) resignation letter, he was asked if he would accept it. The Pope rejected the notion out of hand, reportedly saying that he wished he had a John O'Connor to appoint in every church around the world.

When it comes to Eunice vs. Teddy, I feel the way John Paul felt about Cardinal O'Connor. For every vote Ted cast, for every speech he gave, and for every law he authored, I wish it were Eunice.

No comments: