Fragmented patient memories inspire Phil’s book
Reverend Phil Sharkey, of Addenbrooke and Rosie Hospitals in Cambridge, listened intently to the fragmented memories of 30 patients and turned key words into verses they wished they had written.
And when Covid struck, and Rev Sharkey, 70, found himself isolated at home and working through Zoom and phone, he went back to every poem and wrote one of his own in response.
Today 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 was launched today (October 7) – National poetry day – and should be of interest to care professions and people living with relatives suffering from dementia. It will also be used for teaching in Addenbrooke.
In an introduction, Reverend Sharkey, who started patient conversations by asking questions about poems they could remember, said: Going back even further, nursery rhymes and limericks.
“Some had the floor, but it was difficult to discern a consistency in the broken and lost words they used to describe themselves and their experience. Some had no speech but listened and observed what was said and happening around them.
Part of one of the poems, titled “Finger food – no sauce” reads:
“Fingers – no sauce” (sign above the bed)
A plus sign
(sit next to me)
Eye engagement and smile
(Hello and welcome)
Pointing to a cookie and groping
(Can you open this?)
I open and offer a “Rich Shortie” – which
He takes fingers rocked by arthritis, and
Guides erratically to a gaping toothless mouth.
And Reverend Sharkey’s response to his own poem is:
Words for the silent, food for the fingers,
Crumbs for the soul,
Thank you for inviting me with a smile
Salvo, no sauce.
Shared silence, gestural guidance to go further
Your collected fragments nourished by a multitude of
Who needs gravy with memories so rich?
The book features a preface by Girton College chaplain and poet, singer-songwriter, priest and scholar Reverend Malcolm Guite, and a commendation from Cambridge advisor and supervisor Jim Holloway.
It contains stitched images of elderly people by Georgie Meadows, which were on display in Addenbrooke in July.
“Words to Remember – Lost and Found Poems” is published in-house by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and is available in a paperback ring-bound book for £ 10. Email Phil Sharkey
All proceeds will go to Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust