Advocacy, Poetry, Toward better care

safety pins & call bells

June 23, 2018: I discover one of my mother’s nightgowns buried in a plastic bag in the back of a closet when I’m packing to move. There’s a pair of shoes (black patent leather), a black and white polka dot skirt, and a white blouse in the bag too. They were all hers.

I pull out the nightgown. It’s soft in my hands. “Snuggly,” Mom would have said. I lift it up to my nose, inhale.  It doesn’t smell like Mom. It smells like jail, even now, after two years. I hold it up in front of me, at arm’s-length. It’s white with light blue flowers, a round neck, white embroidery across the upper chest,  and four white buttons down the middle.  It’ll fit. I sleep in the buff, but I could wear it on winter mornings when I get out of bed.

I turn it around, see the small irregular holes at the shoulders, and a jagged line of haphazard stitches that close a tear about two inches long where it would have spanned Mom’s shoulder blades.

I take off my shirt, and slip the nightdress on. The institutional odour becomes stronger; I feel a little queasy.  Then, unbidden, the first line of a poem speaks itself…

safety pins & call bells

©2018 punkie

safety pins & call bells

i put on your nightgown, the one with blue flowers
it reeks of the jail where top dogs love power

there are holes at the shoulders that safety pins tore
when you got up at night, and tried to walk out the door

but the pins were attached with chains to the wall
you pulled them so tight, they rang bells meant to call

someone might come, but not in time to prevent
the pins that weren’t safe from your dress to be rent

if ever they got there, you’d be out in the hall
they’d scold and admonish, say “you’re going to fall!”

“get back to bed, lie down, go to sleep!
out come the meds if i hear even a peep.”

i didn’t get then, what caused the holes in your clothes
seems neglect and abuse sported ribbons and bows

the flannel was stitched in the laundry below
nurses answered my questions with lies and “don’t know”

but the truth is revealed in weeks, months, and years
follows the light and the tracks of my tears

the pins ripped the fabric, and hastened the end
caused me to fight, and human rights to defend

now i slip on your nightgown, the one with the scars
and thank god you are free of the chains and the bars

©2018 Susan Macaulay. I invite you to share my poetry widely, but please do not reblog or copy and paste my poems into other social media without my permission. Thank you.

The safety pins, chains, ribbons and call bells did not prevent falls and injuries as is clear from the cuts and bruises beside Moms right eye.


20 questions to ask when a care partner or resident walks around at night

don’t fence me in: a true story about the impact of physical restraints on my mom who lived with alzheimer disease

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2 thoughts on “safety pins & call bells”

  1. Very poignant and beautiful, Susan. The photo is powerful; your Mom was so brave, wasn’t she? I truly love her courage and your continued reflection on the journey you shared. It’s going to be hard to leave all those memories behind!


    1. Lorrie B,

      This is the second time I’ve replied to this comment, the first having seemingly disappeared into some kind of Internet blackhole 😛

      Thanks for the compliment on the poetry and the photo. You’re right, my mom was incredibly courageous, and even though she’s been “gone” for two years, she still inspires me every day.

      I will carry these memories with me until I don’t/can’t anymore. But again, you’re right, it’s hard to leave the place, or more accurately the Township, which has been my “home” and/or my “home away from home” for 54 years. In particular, I feel as if I’m leaving Mom, and there’s grief surfacing around another separation. I began to write a poem about that too. The first tentative line is “Will you follow where I go?”

      I haven’t finished the poem yet. I have many unfinished poems 😉

      Thanks for your ongoing support. Love you ❤


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