Forget They Were Ever Born
By Sharon Flanagan-Hyde
Paperback, 193 pages
Published October 2019
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When it comes to sharing my thoughts and writing reviews about books, I’m never at a loss for words. That changed when I read Sharon Flanagan-Hyde’s memoir, Forget They Were Ever Born. Upon turning the final page, I pretty much gave up on being productive for the rest of the day. My mind was flooded, not with words, but with emotions – easily a dozen of them. There is so much to this slim, tightly-written account of the author’s experiences as the sister of Mary Jean, a profoundly resilient woman with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities. It took me a while to process my feelings and thoughts on this book, and to put them into words.
Flanagan-Hyde shares a deeply moving story with succinct, straightforward writing. The work is well-research and detailed. The author doesn’t resort to graphic descriptions or sensational prose to relate the horrors Mary Jean endured for decades (first at Belchertown State School and later at group homes) and the stress and anguish her family experienced. Melodrama isn’t needed. The details are dramatic enough. The story is troubling and heartbreaking on many levels – from the shocking way in which people with all kinds of disabilities have been institutionalized, neglected and abused throughout our nation’s history, to the fact that one of our most vulnerable populations still suffers from such abuse today (look up Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix).
As the eldest of five children to parents with untreated mental illnesses, Flanagan-Hyde took on a lot of responsibility to care for her siblings throughout her childhood. She never felt it was enough. As young as five years old, she changed diapers and tended household chores when her mother was incapable. She was a bright, curious child who loved to read and ask questions. Those qualities often rewarded her with tremendous pain (physical, emotional and at the hands of her father). As young as seven years old, Flanagan-Hyde was already keeping a journal and documenting her family’s history thanks to grown-up conversations with her grandfather.
This a tough read, but ultimately it is inspiring and affirming. Mary Jean finally found a safe and loving home, and the author finally found her way to understanding and forgiveness (not only of her parents, but also of herself). It takes great wisdom, courage and strength to reach that pinnacle. It takes even more to lay bare such a painful and personal journey for all the world to know. Flanagan-Hyde and her siblings have my deepest respect and gratitude for the way they have championed their sister, supported one another, and shared their story. This book gets my highest recommendation.