Death & Dying, Life & Living, Love

happy last birthday dear mummy

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.

Mary Patricia (Patty) Macaulay: Obituary

dead mom talking full of grief, wisdom and tenderness

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Care Partnering, Challenges & Solutions, Tips, tools & skills

50 names not to call alzheimer’s me

red flag to a bull cropped


“Calling me ‘dear’ is like a red flag to a bull,” I once said to a friend. “It makes me want to charge. It’s patronizing, condescending, and rude.”

It also rankles me when I hear elderly people who live with dementia being called pet names by others who could be their children or grandchildren. Maybe these folks think it’s sweet to call old people dearie and the like, but it’s not. It’s disrespectful at best, and dangerous at worst. It diminishes and demeans; it’s one of the myriad ways we rob the elderly of their dignity.

Take a look at this revealing 2008 NYT article, which says:

“…a team of researchers videotaped interactions in a nursing home between 20 residents and staff members. They found that when nurses used phrases like “good girl” or “How are we feeling?” patients were more aggressive and less cooperative or receptive to care. If addressed as infants, some showed their irritation by grimacing, screaming or refusing to do what staff members asked of them.”

And Karen Austin reports in Elderspeak: Babytalk Directed at Older Adults:

“Public health experts have found that when older adults are exposed to the patronizing language of elderspeak, their performance on tasks decreases and their rates of depression increase.  Other studies show that even people with moderate to severe dementia can tell when people are talking down to them, and it decreases their level of co-operation.” (Italics mine.)

It’s no wonder older people with dementia respond with anger and aggression. Anyone would. I can see myself behaving exactly the same way if and when I get Alzheimer’s disease and someone tells me it’s time to “wake up dear, get up dear, sit down dear, drink your juice dear, calm down dear, do this dear, don’t do that dear, give me that dear, that’s not yours dear, be quiet dear, go to sleep dear…. ” all the while patting me on the hand as if I were a child, which I won’t be when I’m 80, even if I have a brain disease.

“Stick in your ear dear!” I hear my future self snap. To lessen the possibility that I may be labeled violent and aggressive, and then medicated into submission, I’m laying some ground rules ahead of time. Here are 50 names I don’t like being called now (unless you’re my mother or lover), and will like even less when I’m old and living with dementia; use them at your peril:

  1. Angel
  2. Angel face
  3. Baby doll
  4. Baby cakes
  5. Buttercup
  6. Beautiful
  7. Beauty
  8. Cutie
  9. Cutie pie
  10. Darling
  11. Darlin’
  12. Dear
  13. Dear one
  14. Dearest
  15. Dearie
  16. Doll
  17. Duck
  18. Duckie
  19. Gorgeous
  20. Honey
  21. Honey bun
  22. Honey bunch
  23. Honey bunny
  24. Honey cakes
  25. Hun
  26. Love
  27. Love bear
  28. Love bug
  29. Lovely
  30. Lovey dovey
  31. Peaches
  32. Petal
  33. Pet
  34. Poops
  35. Poopsie
  36. Pumpkin
  37. Pussycat
  38. Precious
  39. Sugar
  40. Sugar pie
  41. Sugar plum
  42. Sugar puss
  43. Sweetie
  44. Sweetheart
  45. Sweetness
  46. Sweet pea
  47. Sweet cheeks
  48. Toots
  49. Tootsie
  50. Treasure

Prefacing any of these with “My” makes them even worse (e.g. My darling, My dear, My love, My precious, My duck, My pet, etc.). You may call me Susan. S-U-S-A-N. Susan. That’s my name. Not dear. Nor lovey. Nor sweetie. Nor Hun.

And by the way, don’t tell me what do either. Consider yourself warned. In a nice way. Sort of 😛

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Annie & Cricket, Fiction, Joy, Life & Living, Love, Our stories

it’s just not cricket

CRICKET-ICC-WORLD-T20-FINAL-WOMEN'S-ENG-AUS...England cricketer Charlotte Edwards (R) plays a shot as Australian wicketkeeper Jodie Fields looks on during the ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup's final match between Australia Women and England Women at the R. Premadasa International Cricket Stadium in Colombo on October 7, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Ishara S. KODIKARA (Photo credit should read Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/GettyImages)
Photo credit: Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/GettyImages

“May I ask you a question?” Stella said.

Stella was unfailingly polite.

“Of course,” Cricket replied.

Cricket was compulsively transparent.

Stella’s hands worked without pause. She didn’t look up.

Pearl one, knit one. Pearl one, knit one.

Cricket knew nothing about knitting, but she’d heard “Pearl one, knit one,” somewhere and imagined that’s what Stella might be silently saying to herself as the needles clicked.

“How did you get the name Cricket?”

Cricket laughed.

“What did she say?” Cricket’s mother Annie asked.

Laughter always sparked something in her, despite the dementia.

“Stella wants to know how I got the nickname Cricket, Mom.”

“Oh. She wants to know how you got the name Picket.”

Her hearing was fine. Her processing not so much.

“Cricket, Mom,” she enunciated more clearly.


“Yes, that’s right.”

“Oh dear.”

They sat side-by-side on a worn-out sofa. Multiple lacerations in the slip covers exposed the dull yellow foam underneath. Cricket had her arm around her mother’s shoulder; she pulled her a little closer.

“You know the expression ‘It’s just not cricket’?” Cricket directed her question at Stella.

“Yes,” Stella replied.

“It’s just not cricket,” her mother repeated.

“It means something is unfair. It means something unjust or just plain wrong is being done to someone or something. It comes from the game of cricket,” Cricket elaborated.

“Something just plain wrong is being done to someone,” her mother echoed.

“Yes, that’s right, Annie,” Stella agreed.

“Well, it’s not from that,” Cricket deadpanned. Stella chuckled. Annie looked blank.

“I was born in August, right Mom?”

“You were born in August.”

Repeating was a comfort, and Cricket helped Annie do it. It was a way for her mother to contribute to conversations, to feel connected, to express herself when other means failed.

“That’s right Mom. In August.”

Stella glanced up from her sock-in-progress, and nodded encouragingly.

“You used to tell me the crickets were in full song when I was a baby Mom, and I was really chirpy just like them–especially at night.”

“Especially at night,” Annie said.

“Yeah. So that’s how I got the name Cricket, Stella. From the mating sounds of insects on hot summer nights,” she laughed at the irony of telling the story on a blustery November afternoon fifty-five years after the fact.


This is the second instalment in a fictional series about Cricket & Annie; more here.

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