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That Went Well: Adventures in Caring for My Sister

Review

That Went Well: Adventures in Caring for My Sister

The Harris family was enjoying a peaceful, comfortable, upper
middle-class life in Salt Lake City when the traumatic birth of
their second daughter Irene forever changed their outlook,
philosophy and dynamics. Irene was severly brain damaged and at
maturity had the mental capacity of a three-year-old. She never
learned to read or write, was extremely difficult to reason with
and had fierce temper tantrums that took a physical toll, mostly on
inanimate objects and Irene herself, but also on others
occasionally.

Irene was childlike and knew no boundaries. She carried her
dolls everywhere and would engage total strangers in conversation
about them. She was cunning enough to convince servers that it was
her birthday, and when dining out, the Harris family was often
chagrined to see yet another cake with candles arrive at their
table. She believed in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter
Bunny. No matter what the occasion called for in the way of attire,
she wanted to wear shorts and her Mickey Mouse knee socks.

The family all made allowances for Irene and did everything they
could to make her life as pleasant and happy as possible. Irene
could upset the applecart or throw a monkey wrench in even the best
of plans, and she quite often did, with very little warning that an
upheaval was imminent. And then the rest of the family was left
scrambling to return the household's mayhem to some semblance of
normal. There's that word again --- normal.

When Irene was a young child, very few places existed to care
for the mentally handicapped, and Irene's parents were advised to
put her in an institution. But they refused, and instead adapted
and accommodated as best they could. Irene's father began a support
group for parents of mentally disabled children. As the years wore
on and Irene's needs increased, the family wanted her to live as
independently as possible, so she attended a residential school in
California for several years. She was miserable being away from
home and managed to get herself evicted from the program. Time and
time again, as the family arranged for her to attend special
daycare, sheltered workshops or devised group living arrangements,
Irene managed to get herself kicked out of them by being extremely
uncooperative.

Meanwhile, Terrell was living a totally different kind of life.
She was a good student and athletic. When she began dating, she
judged her young suitors by the way they treated Irene. Naturally
she ended up marrying a very decent fellow who engaged Irene in
actual conversation and treated her with respect from the moment he
met her. Terrell raised a family, all the while knowing that
eventually she would become totally responsible for her younger
sister.

As the book opens, the middle-aged sisters are grocery shopping,
and Irene has just hurled a packaged chicken at Terrell, who is
refusing to buy sweets for her diabetic sister. The author readily
admits how difficult and complicated her life has been because of
her sister's handicaps, but she proves she has learned over the
years to accept the status quo with grace and humor. She loves
Irene very much, and that affection comes through on the pages of
this book.

While THAT WENT WELL contains a fair amount of humor,
it certainly gives the reader a surprisingly frank and realistic
look at life behind someone else's front door.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 23, 2011

That Went Well: Adventures in Caring for My Sister
by Terrell Harris Dougan

  • Publication Date: January 6, 2009
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 1401323294
  • ISBN-13: 9781401323295