Summer Book Review: Thicker than Water

A Book Review by Debby Frohbieter, Senior Marketing Specialist at Kurzweil/IntelliTools

thinker than waterI was interested in reading Thicker than Water, a compilation of essays written by siblings of people with disabilities, because my step-sister has an intellectual disability. DJ was welcomed into our family when my father married her mother. I was already married with my own family and only saw DJ during family events. While I didn’t grow up with DJ and don’t have the perspective people have who did grow up with a sibling with special needs, I was still moved by the essays in this book.

The essays are beautifully written and come from a perspective I never achieved with my step-sister. For instance, in “Getting from Then to Now,” the writer wonders if her brother, who has an intellectual disability, enjoys himself or what causes his occasional cries of distress. She is convinced he gets pleasure from art and the vibration of a sewing machine beneath his hand. I confess I never questioned what my step-sister was thinking until after my step-mother died. Then I wondered how much DJ understood about life and death. Did she miss her mother? Was she sad? Was she angry?

Other questions came up in these essays. How does a sibling care for a brother or sister who needs constant care, even as an adult? How does a sibling balance taking care of their own families while also taking care of the sibling with disabilities? Where should the sibling live?

One essay brings to light the reality that not all families with a disabled member pull together. The truth is that some families argue about the best way to care for the disabled person. Who should have responsibility? Who should financially support the disabled person and how should the parents’ estate be divided so as not to reduce any government benefits the disabled person is receiving?

In every essay, the writer spoke about the impact their sibling with disabilities had on them and the family. One writer made a decision not to have children as a result of having to take care of his brother. Another writer was influenced to adopt children with disabilities because of her sister. Most were moved by the experience of having a brother or sister who needed extra care.

The book doesn’t try to answer questions about the relationships between siblings with and without disabilities. It doesn’t try to tackle the societal issues about how people with disabilities should be taken care of and who should do that. The book simply contains essays written with honesty and love. You will be inspired. 

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