Accessibility tools
cuh logo

Patients’ fragmented memories inspire Phil’s book

A hospital chaplain who spent hours chatting to patients with dementia was so moved - he turned their memories into poetry.

The Rev Phil Sharkey, of Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s and Rosie Hospitals, listened intently to the fragmented recollections of 30 patients, and crafted key words into verses they might like to have written.

And when Covid struck, and 70-year-old Rev Sharkey found himself isolated at home and working via Zoom and telephone, he returned to each poem and wrote one from himself in reply.

Phil Sharkey | Finger foods, no sauce

Phil Sharkey | Finger foods, no sauce

Link: https://youtu.be/oOaoXo0Ek3I

Video transcript

Finger Foods, no Sauce

“Finger foods – no sauce” (Sign over the bed)

a beckon over

(sit beside me)

eye engagement and smile

(hello and welcome)

pointing to biscuit packet and fumbling

(can you open this?)

I open and offer a “Rich Shortie” – which

he takes in arthritis cradled fingers, and

guides erratically to gaping toothless mouth.

And again.

And again.

Digital Dr on a WOW (Work station on Wheels), looks

on, smiles – “he loves his food”

He points to biscuits again and I repeat the dance.

Shakes his head and points this time to the water..

mouth dried,

after a succession of sucked “shorties”.

A congestion of thought and crumbs of communication,

eased by sips of listening to the pieces that once made

up the whole.

Finger Foods, no Sauce

Words for the wordless, food for the fingers,

crumbs for the soul,

Thank you for inviting me in with your smile.

Salve, not sauce.

Silence shared, gestured guidance to deeper

communion,

Your gathered fragments fed from a multitude

of memories.

Who needs sauce with such rich recollections?

Now the collection, the result of a poetry and spirituality initiative funded by the Royal Voluntary Service, has been turned into a book called ‘Words to Remember – Poems Lost and Found’.

It has been launched today (7 Oct) – National Poetry Day – and is expected to be of interest to the caring professions and people who live with loved ones with dementia. It will also be used for teaching in Addenbrooke’s.

In an introduction, Rev Sharkey, who initiated patient conversations by asking about poems they could recall, says: “Many older people can remember learning, by heart, well known poems at school, by Rudyard Kipling, Edward Lear, or Henry Longfellow or, going back even further, nursery rhymes and limericks.

Some had speech, but it was difficult to discern a coherence in the broken and lost words that they used to describe themselves and their experience. Some had no speech at all but listened and observed well to what was said and going on around them.

The Rev Phil Sharkey

Part of one of the poems, entitled ‘Finger food – no sauce’ reads:

“Finger foods – no sauce” (sign over bed)

A beckon over

(sit beside me)

Eye engagement and smile

(hello and welcome)

Pointing to a biscuit and fumbling

(can you open this?)

I open and offer a “Rich Shortie” – which

He takes in arthritis cradled fingers, and

Guides erratically to gaping toothless mouth.

And the Rev Sharkey’s reply to his own poem is:

Words for the wordless, food for the fingers,

Crumbs for the soul,

Thank you for inviting me in with smile

Salve, not sauce.

Silence shared, gestured guidance to deeper

Communication,

Your gathered fragments fed from a multitude of

Memories.

Who needs sauce with such rich recollections?

The book features a foreword from Girton College chaplain and poet, singer-songwriter, priest, and academic, The Rev Dr Malcolm Guite, and a commendation from Cambridge counsellor and supervisor, Jim Holloway.

It contains stitched images of elderly people by Georgie Meadows, which were on display in Addenbrooke’s in July.

‘Words to Remember – Poems Lost and Found’ is published in-house by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and is available in ring-bound paperback priced £10. Email phil.sharkey@addenbrookes.nhs.uk

All proceeds go to Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust.