happy last birthday dear mummy

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September 27, 2017: I never called my mother “mummy.” It’s what my mother called her mother, my grandmother. Maybe that’s why Mom sang “happy birthday Mummy,” when she chimed in two years ago on September 27, 2015, as you will hear below if you care to listen.

The year Mom turned 80 (2008), I sang happy birthday to her every day for two months because I wouldn’t be there on the day itself. Counting those 60 times, I probably sang her happy birthday five score and ten times at least. Every time off key and out of tune I’ll wager (I inherited Mom’s feisty spirit, but not her beautiful singing voice).

As a teenager, I called Mom “Ma,” which she hated. In my twenties I switched to Mom, and later, as the Alzheimer’s evolved, I sometimes called her Patty, which she spelled with a “y,” and which I spelled with an “i,” and preceded by “Pinkie,” as in Pinkie Patti.

Mom frequently responded more readily to Patty, the short form of her given name Mary Patricia, when “Mom,” didn’t seem to work. Maybe because she was Patty for 28 years longer than she was a mother.

Mom’s beloved brother, and her late sister Lee called Mom “Poose” (it rhymes with moose) or “Poosie.” Her late sister Jean called her Patsy, and my grandmother mostly called her Pat. When they were still married, my dad called her “Wid,” or “Widdy.” It’s was a strange term of endearment that I don’t know the origin of, and now never will as the only two who would know are gone. Mom called me Punkie, or Punk for short–a nickname for my nickname as it were.

It’s funny how we acquire different names and labels during our lifetimes. Some we assign ourselves, others are bestowed or cast upon us by family, friends or enemies. Some characterizations may be accurate, many often are not. One thing is certain, people who live with dementia, or who lived with it as Mom did, suffer more than their fair share of inappropriate and unwarranted labels, the vast majority of which are pejorative and harmful.

When I went to visit Mom on September 27, 2015, her last birthday in this place, I roused her from a light sleep with a gentle “Patty,” and reminded her it was her birthday. I sang her happy birthday for what I didn’t know would be the last time. I wrote about it here, and you can listen to my singing (if you dare!), as well as hers, by clicking on the audio bar:

I invite you to read about the rest of our magical last birthday afternoon together here and here.

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Image copyright: ruthblack / 123RF Stock Photo

3 Comments

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  2. So stunning how those windows of memory open and allow a bright, warming ray of sunshine in! You were so wise to make those recordings – thank you so much for sharing the intimacy of those moments with us!

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