My Dad’s a Goldfish – For John M

A friend has recently gone into a care home. He has a rare form of frontotemporal dementia. It is progressive and irreversible. The brain’s frontal lobe controls planning, judgment, emotional control, behaviour, inhibition and its temporal lobe affects language, along with emotional response and behaviour.

We have been friends for over fifty years – from when he used to walk me home from school carrying my books. We did our homework on the phone. I helped him with English, he helped me with French. We shared so much over those growing up years. Our lives went off in different directions but we always kept the connection – until very recently.

He can no longer take care of himself. He is only sixty three.

I owe him a great deal for the windows onto new worlds he opened for me. I’d like to think I opened some for him, too. This is for him.

For John M

My family went to Fleetwood or
Scarborough for holidays but you –
you went to France, brought back
snails in a tin. We ate them
with garlic butter in the house
on Edinburgh Road. They were
chewy but delicious.

You played me Debussy’s
Clair de Lune, explaining how
he broke harmony’s rules.
Not a pianist, I didn’t understand
but loved the music.

You gave me Francoise Sagan novels.
I felt so grown up, worldly wise.
Introduced me to
the little sparrow, Edith Piaf,
to Collette, Camus:
opening windows onto new worlds.
I gained much from your love
of France and all things French.

Now, with clumps of protein
gumming up your brain,
you don’t read, conversation almost gone,
thought processes wrecked
you can’t remember
all you gave me.

I hope I let you know
before time ran out on us
how important you’ve been
and how thankful I am.

I think, though, you might
still remember those snails
and carrying my books home
from school.

40 thoughts on “My Dad’s a Goldfish – For John M

    • I think he will, Pete. I can even see us in the kitchen of his uncle’s house putting each snail in a shell and annointing them with the garlic butter. Although we convinced ourselves they were delicious I suspect the deliciousness came from the garlic butter rather than the chewy snail.

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  1. What an amazing blog Mary, so beautiful. What is happening these days? So many people live to a great age while others are struck down so young. Dementia is such a cruel disease, mostly I think because it robs you of your dignity. So sad.

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    • I don’t know the answer to your question, Lucinda, but it’s scary. Years ago people probably died before they got dementia which accounts for there being so many cases amongst the older population but nowadays it seems more and more young people are being diagnosed with it. Thank you for your lovely comment about the poem.

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  2. Beautiful remembrances that are so important. My brother-in-law was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia several years ago. His has been a slow progress of the disease, but another friend‘s husband was diagnosed with it and he is under full care. My prayers and thoughts to you and your friend John. ❤️🙏

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  3. Such beautiful words and beautiful memories, Mary. I’m sure John will still remember those snails and have some happy memories of the happy times spent with you. I recently lost a schoolfriend to cancer. She was only a few years older than me and, although we did lose contact, I have many happy memories of her; the first of which was us both holding hands while going to the school Christmas fancy-dress party (me aged 6, her 8).

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    • Thank you, Hugh. It’s difficult to know which parts of his memory bank are still there. Sorry about the loss of your schoolfriend but I love the image of you going off to the school party hand in hand. What were you dressed as?

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      • They do say that people with dementia do remember more about the distant past, than they do about the recent past, don’t they Mary? I know that was the case for my mum, but I guess it may vary from person to person.

        Mandy was dressed as a nurse and me as a fireman. It’s one of the earliest memories I still have. I always loved the Christmas parties at the school. They were always full of fun and, of course, Santa would also pay a visit.

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        • I love the image of a small fireman Hugh! Yes, people with dementia do tend to remember things in the distant past and, like your mum, my dad remembered things from his childhood. I remember looking at old photos of his father’s farm with him once. Later that night I heard him wandering about and when I went to investigate he said he was looking for his hay rake because he had gone back in time and thought he needed to work in the hay field. It is really strange how the mind works and I wonder if it will ever be fully understood.

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          • It’s almost like a form of time travel, isn’t it, Mary? People thinking they are back in a time they remember. I remember my mum thinking I had come to see my newborn brother. My brother is 18 years younger than me, but she was reliving that I was one of the first to visit her and my brother in hospital when he was born. It brought a few tears to my eyes.

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    • Hi Chuck, thanks reading and commenting on my poem for John. He really did have an amazing influence on my life (and I hope I on his) and I am so grateful to him for that. The snails I can live without but Piaf, Collette and Sagan have been constants in my life for many years. Of course, now I am remembering even more things we shared – like the time we were on a school trip and the bus stopped in the town of Moffat. John said we should go and visit his aunt. We rang the doorbell, there was no answer but the door was unlocked so John led me in. We toured around the downstairs calling out to his aunt and it was only when John went upstairs he suddenly turned to me and said, ‘This is not my aunt’s house.’ We ran away like guilty teenagers, giggling all the way back to the bus. All the best to you for Christmas, too, and thanks for dropping by.

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  4. Mary this is very touching. It is so cruel. I was going to say is there anything worse. But the truth is there a lot of things just as bad and each and everyone of them equally as cruel. It is a lovely remembrance of a friend as he was. Much love to you yours, he and his. And thank you for sharing and celebrating his life so beautifully. Px

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  5. Mary, your poem is tells us all the most important things about John as a person. I did research with patients with FTD (and their spouses) in my last last years before retirement. It is very difficult for friends to see someone they know well change so much while still so young. Many of these patients have preserved manual and route finding skills. See if John would enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles, or just do one in front of him. He may reject the suggestion (perversity is comes with FTD), or he may become happily obsessed.

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  6. Beautiful, Mary. It brought tears to my eyes. As human beings, we all hope that – in such tragic cases – some glimmer or two of memories fight their way through the fog and bring comfort. A good friend of mine recently lost his wife to dementia, which again was very sad. Life is so bitter-sweet…

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  7. Beautiful poem, Mary, made even better with the understanding of the lifelong connection you have with its subject. There is something special about the people who come into our lives and open up new possibilities and new worlds, a bond created by doing the same for them. Simply beautiful, and a great way to start my Sunday. Wishing you well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much. I’m really pleased you enjoyed the poem. I think it was written as my way of hanging on to the good things we shared and marking our friendship as one of the important things in my life.

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    • Oh, Nancy, how wonderful to hear from you. I’ve often wondered how you are doing, how life is for you nowadays. I’ve not been updating my blog much lately because I’m trying to write the whole thing up as a memoir, which is taking a lot longer than I expected. Do let me know how you are. Do you have my email?

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