That Went Well

Newspaper & Magazine Articles

People Magazine  January 26, 2009:
BOOKS page 50
Dougan writes with grace about caring for her sister Irene, who - well into middle age - wears Mickey Mouse socks, makes strangers talk to her dolls, and throws furniture when she's mad. In one sense it's a simple story about having a mentally handicapped sibling. But Dougan wants us to consider how we define a successful life. Irene may be limited, but she gives, and gets, happiness daily. And Dougan finds joy in a caretaking task that can overwhelming. "Think how boring life would be," she writes, "without all the bumps."

City Weekly  January 8, 2009:
The Essentials - BOOKS By Scott Renshaw
Late in her new memoir That Went Well—about life caring for her mentally disabled sister, Irene—TERRELL HARRIS DOUGAN expresses a very human sentiment about her experience. “I’m not going to go all sappy on you and tell you that these angels have blessed our lives,” Dougan writes. “On the contrary. My sister is a big pain in the ass half the time.”

Recollections of life with special-needs individuals can easily turn into big bowls of sentimentality, but Dougan gives hers a surprising bite. A Salt Lake City native and long-time Deseret News humor columnist, Dougan has lived the kind of life that allows her to do a little name-dropping: dinner with Glenn Miller as a child, thanks to her dad’s marketing career; joining the proto-Sundance Film Festival board with Robert Redford; meeting Kim Peek, the autistic-savant model for Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man.

But Dougan is more interested in telling a complicated tale of dealing with Irene as both a source of joy and an endless font of frustration. From the awkwardness of a 1950s adolescence where “retarded” kids were often hidden from view, through adulthood and a crucial role in organizing community services for special-needs individuals, Dougan tracks the evolution of her own feelings as the nation itself was evolving in its dealings with the differently-abled. Her journey—full of frustration at needing to do so much, and guilt that she hasn’t done enough—becomes both uniquely hers, and beautifully representative.

The Salt Lake Tribune  January 4, 2009:
Sibling struggles
Local memoir recounts life with a mentally disabled sister
By Ben Fulton
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 12/31/2008 04:43:38 PM MST

Growing up in the Salt Lake City of the 1950s with her mentally disabled sister, Irene, Terrell Harris Dougan received the full range of joys and frustrations that came with it. She harbored a secret guilt about her sister's condition, endured her sister's pesky questions about the boys she dated, and even had the odd chicken hurled in her direction while shopping for groceries. All that and more are recounted in Dougan's book That Went Well, published by Hyperion for release next month.

How is the task of writing similar to raising a mentally disabled sibling?
"I got two blessings in both growing up with her and writing this book. People came out of the woodwork. New stories came out of the woodwork. It was matter of surrendering to it and saying, 'OK. Let's go.'?"

As described in the book, your father was perhaps the first in Utah to ask parents to organize during a time when it was almost shameful for families to admit having a mentally disabled child. To what extent did you want this book to stand as a historical record of how things had changed?
"I definitely wanted it to stand as some sort of record. While it has a local setting, there was the context of a national experience and growing awareness of these people's needs.
"The warehousing of the past is what shocks people most. It's been years since the scandal of Willowbrook [a state institution for children with mental retardation in New York charged with unethical behavior]. Utah's American Fork facility was never like that, but the general neglect that went on always shocks people. Amazingly, there are institutions that have not been shut down, even though the average cost to the taxpayer to keep someone in an institution, at least in Utah, is $450 per day. It's around $250 per day to keep them in the community."

Your book is full of prescient remarks from your father about the future challenges of raising your sister. You remark at the end of your book that the "wounded willow" isn't as interesting as the strong locust tree in your neighborhood that replaced it.
"A song from 'The Fantasticks' says it best: 'Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.' That's the deal. When you have someone you're taking care of who is wounded in some way, you become half damaged by it, enraged, overprotective and mean to your friends. On the other hand, you become half enriched by it, because that hurt has opened your heart to compassion. There's a secret, too, among families who have a mentally disabled sibling or relative. It's the pleasures you get from little progressions and victories. They are so much more powerful than for people who go about normal life. Those victories are a kind of secret."

To what extent does your sister Irene know about the book?
"She's absolutely thrilled. She's already signed many copies and given them to her friends."