By Fiona Firth
Key Themes: Mental Health, Learning Disability, Fiction
Not so many years ago thousands of British children were taken away from their families to live in institutions. Children, sometimes only a few weeks old were separated from devastated mothers in a dark, shameful manoeuvre so as not to offend the civilisation of ‘normality’.
For many, being born with a learning disability was a crime, or at least punishable as one. Their parents were not callous, uncaring people but were swayed by the popular and professional opinion that life in an institution was ‘in their best interests’, leaving them with a guilt that can only be understood by another parent. The bond was unaltered by disability and diagnosis and many were stuck, unable to grieve, unable to confide in others, unable to move on or pull their lives back to some sort of order and happiness.
In a world where intelligence brings freedom, Jess’ life is a continuous battle to prove her worth and capability. At 17 years of age, she is left at a long stay hospital when her mother dies in 1955. This book describes her development from naďve, innocent, immature and in many ways pampered child to an articulate, capable woman – whose strength and determination far outweigh the “intelligent” people around her. Just as the hospital becomes home her life is uprooted again by another well meaning individual who believes she knows what is in Jess’ best interests.
About the Author
Fiona Firth was born in Newcastle in 1973. She qualified as a Learning Disability Nurse in 2001 and feels passionately about the rights of disabled individuals, particularly their right to make choices about their own lives. She has experience of learning disability hospitals, resettlement homes, day services and community teams.
She has an additional interest in mental health and recently studied psychological wellbeing at Newcastle University.
Fiona lives in Northumberland with her husband, David and two daughters, Charlotte and Anna. She runs an inclusive childminding service and plays horn in a local band.
Sitting in his back room with a warm glass of whisky, he opened his letter from Derek again. They’d never really talked about Martin or that day last year when Stan had visited. He knew what Derek was and Derek sensed that, but it had become possible not to acknowledge the fact without losing his son. It wasn’t all he was, Stan justified, not like Jess, her handicap affected everything – this is just part of Derek, a part he preferred not to think about.
The cat jumped on to his knee. Stan stared at the letter, going over and over the first sentence in his head. “Dad, I want to see Jess.” Straight to the point and as abrupt as that. “I need to see her to explain why I let her down. She must think I hate her or that I just don’t care.”
Stan heard footsteps in the hall and sharply shuffled the letter into his pocket. Helen stuck her head around the door. “I’m just off to church to see to the flowers, love.”
“OK,” he called back.
He’d not even discussed Derek’s situation with Helen, let alone begin to explain the existence of another child. Helen was a caring and understanding person but she was also a respectable and dignified member of the church. He couldn’t compromise her beliefs because of him and his mistakes, it wasn’t fair.
Why did Derek want to see her now? Why? Why? Why? To Stan she was still the seventeen year old child he’d dropped off nine years ago. He had no idea what she’d become. He thought about Jess the same way he did about Betty, part of the past, as if she died along with her mum.
When he’d moved to Yorkshire he didn’t inform the hospital. At first this was an oversight, but after he had settled in his new home he wasn’t going to stir up the ghosts of the past.
The immense feeling of guilt he’d spent so long trying to shake off returned. The look on Jess’s face when he left her – all wide eyed and innocent. Where was she now? Who was she now? Part of him was a little curious but not enough to reopen the past – it was a closed chapter he’d vowed not to reopen.
“Please let me have the address, and I’ll write to her, let her know I want to visit,” the letter went on. Stan knew this was Derek’s way of getting his consent. It was a big hospital, not at all hard to find, and Stan had no idea which ward she would be on.
This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 26 January, 2012.