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Beline Obeid
November 22, 2012
Imagine if our son, Andrew, had been born in the 1950s. Would we have bent to extreme pressure from the medical profession and a more compartmentalized society to institutionalize him? What if he were yours son or brother? How would you have reacted if he had been institutionalized? How would you handle being told to not visit him, forget about him and never think about him again? What would you have told inquiring family, friends, neighbors and coworkers?

That is essentially the premise of a documentary, “Where’s Molly?”

The story follows a 6-year-old, Jeff Daly, who discovers his almost 3-year-old sister, Molly, missing in 1957, never to return. While his parents refused to talk about Molly, Jeff was left to wonder and to mourn the sudden and mystifying loss of his only sister.

After regrettably “forgetting” about Molly for decades, Jeff rekindles a romance with a high school sweetheart during their 25-year class reunion. She asks about Molly, setting off a chain of events changing their lives and thousands more.

With a bulldog tenacity, Jeff learns the truth to the family secret that kept him from his sister. He finds Molly and discovers one more family secret. Against his wife’s wishes, Jeff’s father visited Molly monthly for years until he was asked not to because of the trauma it caused Molly after he left. Devastated, Jeff’s father formed a clown corps to continue to visit his only daughter for a time and left behind a treasure trove of personal information about Molly after his death.

This inspirational view of “less than perfect” people ends warmly with new legislation in Jeff’s home state of Oregon, making it easier for siblings to find long-lost family members and Molly being genuinely accepted by Jeff, his wife, Cindy (his high school sweetheart) and her extended family. Unfortunately, Jeff’s younger brother — born after Molly was sent away — refuses any contact telling Jeff it’s because he’s following the wishes of their parents. Nonetheless, Molly is back in Jeff’s life to stay.

That’s where the video ends, but not the story.

We watched the extra promo video originally produced and released by the institution years ago, which included a shot of Molly. This may be among the worst “promo” videos of all time. It shows a sterile, cold, inhumane and prison-like environment dominated by unforgiving leather restraints, cold linoleum floors, endless rows of cribs, iron bars on windows, machine-like caregivers and life-altering medications. The video would not make any parents more excited to make the toughest decision regarding their child.

We’ve heard stories of children with special needs who were institutionalized. We could only imagine what life was like for forgotten children without family, school, birthdays, holiday get-togethers and any semblance of a typical home life. But the video crystallized what it was like for these abandoned souls. It was shocking. It was horrific. And it broke our hearts.

We are thankful Andrew is an active member in our family life. He now wants to go out in public all of the time. We often oblige. We celebrate every birthday and holiday with him, though perhaps not in the same way your family celebrates. Our lives revolve around him.

We rarely ever ask one another, “Where’s Andrew?” because he is almost always close enough to see or hear. It’s hard to imagine that might not have been true in the not-so-distant past.

Visit wheresmolly.net for more information on the documentary “Where’s Molly?”

Grosse Pointe residents Coutilish and Langan created this column to share experiences from their journey as parents of a child with Fragile X syndrome [fragilex.org]. Send your questions or comments to mblangan@hotmail.com.

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