Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Q&A with Debbie Chein Morris


Photo by Jamie Kilgore



Debbie Chein Morris is the author of the new memoir We Used to Dance: Loving Judy, My Disabled Twin. A retired educator, Morris lives in Mt. Kisco, New York.


Q: What inspired you to write this memoir about the relationship between you and your late sister?


A: I started writing emails to friends and family detailing what was going on with Judy and it turned into a journal. The idea to turn it into a book came from one of those friends who was impressed with my writing. As time went on, I became inspired by a growing desire to tell my story.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I was having trouble coming up with a good title and a (different) friend asked what it was that I think of most when I think about Judy. I immediately thought of how we used to dance around the house, me holding her in my arms, she laughing with glee.

Q: The writer Teresa Sullivan said of the book, “This is a moving reflection on navigating the physical, emotional, and social challenges of an atypical life at home and in the ‘outside’ world.” What do you think of that description?


A: Hmmm. That’s a complicated question.


First, the idea of my life at home being “atypical” is interesting to me. I’ve had other people make the same observation. I, however, did not think of my life as atypical. It was my life, the only one I knew, and though I was aware that other people I knew didn’t have a disabled twin sister, it was my norm.


There were certainly physical challenges, especially as my mother and I got older and lifting Judy became more difficult. There were the challenges of going places by car – getting the wheelchair in and out of the trunk, also made more difficult as years went on.


I suppose I could say that there were social challenges – having to deal with the stares from people and questions from children when we would be out and about with Judy.


This lessened somewhat as we grew up and it was more common to see people in wheelchairs, but the curiosity stares were still there. I was aware people were looking, but I went about our way and didn’t pay much attention.


Emotionally, I wasn’t aware of the effect that Judy had on my life until I was an adult, when I realize that my entire self-image and much of my personality was influenced by having grown up with a severely disabled twin.


I attribute my ability to empathize with others and my tolerance for “imperfections” in others to the love I felt for my sister.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write this memoir?


A: Writing the part of the memoir when Judy was in the nursing home was very difficult for me. I still cry when I read certain sections. But the memories of growing up and of Judy when she was younger, those are good memories; and I am very grateful for those memories.


Having written the memoir, I feel that I accomplished something very important to me: I wanted to share my story with my children and with others but, perhaps, more importantly, I feel that by writing the book, I am able to give Judy’s life more meaning and allow her to live on.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on another memoir about a different time in my life.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Check out my website: https://debbiecheinmorris.com.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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