This book did come with a trigger warning: extensive description and discussion of discriminatory attitudes and actions towards people based on disabilities or age.
Freeing Teresa is about a woman with Down Syndrome, written by her sister, Franke. When Teresa was born in 1964, doctors suggested to her parents that she be put in an institution. Her mother refused, and she lived at home with her parents. Her mother has since passed away, her father is approaching his 91st birthday and Teresa is 49 years old. Franke and 3 of her siblings are trying to figure out where Teresa should go to live, as her father’s health is failing and they would prefer her to be settled before their Dad passes. Her brother had initially told his father he would take Teresa in, but now none of the siblings want to take on the role of her sole caretaker and they are looking at other options. Franke, though busy with her books and traveling to promote them, feels that Teresa is capable of making a decision for where she should live and is trying to advocate for her, but her other siblings keep excluding Teresa and her father from any conversation and have the CCAC deem Teresa incapable of making such decisions. Franke doesn’t believe Teresa should go to a nursing home and instead thinks it is possible that Teresa can live with others who have Down Syndrome, or with her and her husband. Her siblings continue to try and block every solution she tries to offer. Franke’s family did not want this story to be told so many of the personal details have been redacted and their images/likeness have been photoshopped out of all the photos. She writes, “In photos throughout the book, the images of many family members have been blanked-out echoing their absence in my life”
I have to say, this book was not at all what I was expecting. When I saw it was a true story about fighting ableism, I thought it was going to be some sort of facility or company that was causing all the issues for Teresa, not her own family! As the story went on, I became more and more frustrated with her family. Of course, I am reading this from a disabled person’s point of view, and if my brothers wouldn’t help me out when I needed it, I’d be terribly upset! Of course my situation is a bit different as I only have a physical disability – but from what was presented about Teresa she seemed pretty capable of making her own decisions about what she wanted to do and where she wanted to live, but it seemed like no one other than Franke wanted to take that into consideration. I am not sure if the sister who had the husband who owned nursing homes was making some sort of deal off of her going there or what, but the way the other siblings teamed up against Franke and Teresa and their own father’s wishes was, well, disgusting. It does seem like there is a sequel coming as the ending did not really resolve much of anything, but I can only hope that there was a happy ending.
I gave this book 4 stars and I would definitely recommend it to others – but be sure to keep an open mind. After the first half of the book I was flabbergasted and thought the whole book was awful, but I stuck it through and rode the rest of the roller coaster with Teresa and was happy I stuck it out. If you consider yourself an activist or ally for the disabled then I think you would find this book to be rather eye opening.
About the Book
Freeing Teresa is a true story about an activist who tries to stop her powerful siblings from putting their disabled sister into a nursing home. She fails. And then must rescue her.
Franke James objected when she heard of the plan to put her disabled sister into a nursing home. Teresa Heartchild was just 49 years old and healthy. But the other siblings, who were acting as Teresa’s “guardians,” said that Teresa, who has Down syndrome, was “incapable.” Despite the objections, the siblings put Teresa into a nursing home, insisting it was necessary. But Franke refused to accept this, and she helped Teresa get discharged. That’s when all hell broke loose. The two sisters had to stand together—against their siblings, the medical system and the police—to defend Teresa’s right to be free.