Hope, Humour, Life & Living, Love, Videos

one little kitty’s top dementia care tip

Pia Roma waking up from her morning nap, September 2017

Mom adored her little cat Pia Roma, who was named for a trip Mom and I took to Rome in the early 2000s.  When Mom was placed in ElderJail, I gave Pia to the friend of a friend to care for. She hid under the sofa for six weeks, only coming out at night to eat, drink and use the litter box.

The friend whose friend I’d given her to retrieved her and took Pia to her flat where Pia hid under the bed instead of the sofa. Meanwhile, when I saw what ElderJail care was like, I couldn’t leave Mom, so I rented a house nearby. About a month later, I rescued Pia and brought her to live with me. This time she hid under a big armoire in the living room, thankfully it was only for a few days. That was five years ago, and we’ve grown pretty close since then

Pia’s “getting up there” in cat years, and is starting to have health issues. In fact, she was so ill in the spring that I thought I was going to lose her. But being a fighter seems to run in the family, and lo and behold she bounced back. Like Mom in her waning years, Pia hasn’t lost her playfulness, quirkiness and attitude.

I’ve learned that Moms and cats have a lot to teach us about living right, and fighting the good fight.


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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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Death & Dying, Life & Living, Love

happy birthday mom, i hope you’re living it up

Mom hamming it up on her back deck, September 24, 2012.

September 27, 2016

Dear Mom,

Today marks the eighty-eighth anniversary of the day you were born. It became a tradition of sorts that I should write or do something special on your birthday.

In 2008, when you turned 80, we threw you a big surprise party in August, we danced through the summer, and I sang happy birthday to you every day for eight weeks because I couldn’t be with you on your actual birthday. In 2010, I posted these beautiful pictures of you in a pink sweater down at the dock. I have dozens of photographs of you, but these are among my favourites.

In 2011, I wrote a piece in which I thanked you for being such an amazing woman and role model for me. In 2012, I recalled the challenges we’d faced and the good times we had throughout the previous year; i posted lots of great pics as proof. In 2014, I wrote you two letters, one about swimming, the other a chorus line of videos of your dance-capades over the years–it’s a cracker. Last year, 2015, we joked about being funny on your bunny, and your friend Shirley gave you a card with a kitten on it.

I miss you Mom, but because I have all of these pictures and videos, prose and poetry, I feel like you are here with me, and in a sense you are. This morning there were two cardinals on my back deck at dawn. You were always excited when you saw a cardinal, and so I was reminded of you. I write to the tick-tocks of your antique clocks every day, and I remember you counting their chimes when you came to visit. I still hear the sound of your voice saying “five.” Your big wooden salad bowl hangs on a hook in the kitchen; your beat-up colander is suspended above the sink; I just put your winter quilt on my bed, and each morning I eat breakfast at the half-moon table, just as we did hundreds of times together. It means a lot to have your things around me. But they are things, they are not you.

Sometimes, randomly and suddenly, I will feel an empty space in the middle of my chest. It’s a physical feeling, a breathtaking emptiness like nothing I’ve experienced before. I wonder how that can be because there’s still bone and tissue there, and yet it feels like there’s not. I am whole, and yet I am not. When that void opens up in my chest, I start to cry. I weep at the thought of your absence. Paradoxically, our deep connection flows through the hollow and into my core. Like everything, the feeling passes; my tears subside and I go on living, passionately and fully. Now that you are gone to another place, you wouldn’t want me to drown in grief and despair. “Life is for the living,” you would say.

Today, on what would have been your eighty-eighth birthday, I celebrate you and your fierce courage and determination. I imagine you smiling and dancing and singing unencumbered by a broken body and failing mind. I hope you are not resting in peace or sleeping deceased, but getting up and going the way when you did when you were here in flesh and blood as well as in spirit.

Happy birthday Mom. Live it up!

Love and hugs,


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Joy, Love, Memories

love comes in all shapes, sizes and colours including small, furry, and black and white

Version 2

September 27, 2015 (this is the last in a three part series; parts one and two are here, and here respectively).

Just as the words “make a wish” come out of my mouth, Lila* walks into the living room with the cutest kitten I’ve ever seen cradled in her arms. And I’ve seen a kitten or two in my days.

“Oh my goodness! Speaking of kittens, look Mom,” I say.

“Here’s a real live one,” Shirley joins in.

“Would you like to hold the kitten Patti?” Lila offers.

“Oh, look at the kitten, I don’t think it should come,” Mom sounds worried. She’s not afraid of the kitten, she’s afraid of hurting her.

“It’s okay mom,” I reassure her as Lila puts “Tache” on Mom’s lap. “It’s fine.”

“Is she fine?” Mom asks.

“Yes,” I reassure her. That does the trick. Mom opens her heart.

“Oh, isn’t she lovely?” Her voice softens and she starts to pet Tache.

“She’s got a mustache under her nose,” Lila says.

Version 2“She’s got a little mustache under her nose,” Mum echoes. “Isn’t she a cute little baby, the cute little baby that she is? Oh, she’s Mommy’s baby.”

A few seconds later, Mom lifts Tache up from her lap and lays her ever so gently on her chest. She continues to stroke her. I melt into a puddle of gratitude.

“Oh she’s a good baby. She’s an awful good baby that baby. She’s a good baby to Granny. Oh she’s a nice baby,” Mom coos to the kitten. The little black-and-white ball of delight is uncharacteristically docile. Other than her motor, which is purring loudly enough for all of us to hear, she’s as quiet and she is adorable.

“She’s so good,” I remark to Lila. “She’s so patient.”

“Yes, I’m surprised,” Lila says. “I’ve just brought her here in the car, and I had her in a laundry basket. She was rolling around and playing and swatting at my arm and I thought ‘oh maybe this isn’t the right time to come to visit.’ I’ve never seen her sit so still like this.”

“Oh she’s a lovely baby,” Mom whispers over and over as the two of them snuggle.

“I think she likes you,” Lila smiles at Mom.

“Oh yeah,” Mom says. “She likes Patty.” Lila, Shirley and I grin. Mom puts the kitten back in her lap. It’s too precious a moment not to capture; I flout the rules and take a picture.

“Yeah, she’s very fond of Patti,” Mom says. “Look at her in her soul. She’s a nice baby.”

Look at her in her soul? OMG. One little kitten = fifteen minutes of immeasurable love and joy that will resonate forever. Thank you Lila. Thank you Tache. Thank you universe.

This is the last in a three part series; parts one and two are here, and here respectively.

*Lila is not her real name.



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Hope, Joy, Love, Memories

put a candle on a cupcake and see if you feel as lucky as my mom

Kitten card from Shirley


September 27, 2015 (this is part two in three-part story; parts one and three of this story are here, and here respectively):

“Hellooooo!” I say as we round the corner into the living room at around 3:00 p.m. “Look who’s here Mom.”

“Who’s here?” Mom says.

“It’s Shirley!” I’m delighted because Shirley is such a gift in Mom’s life, and mine too. We rendezvous in the living room most days around teatime. One of Shirley’s daughters or sons frequently accompanies her. But Shirley is alone today. Last month, Mrs. T. might have been here too; she passed away a couple of weeks ago. We miss her. Mrs. T. was always kind, gracious and forgiving with Mom, and she and Shirley used to do jigsaw puzzles together on the third floor. They’d known each other for seventy years.

Shirley is standing in front of her usual chair holding up a dark blue and khaki-coloured scarf she’s working on. The scarf’s about as tall as she is–at least five feet with her sneakers on. When Mom and I roll in things perk up.

“Hello Shirley,” Mom says. Sometimes Mom calls Shirley “Shirl,” which makes Shirley feel special because only one other person in her ninety-two years has called her Shirl. But even when that doesn’t happen, Shirley’s pleased to see us.

“I already wished you happy birthday Patti, but I have a birthday card for you too,” Shirley says as she hands Mom an envelope.

“Yeah, that was a birthday card for me,” Mom says. “My God, that’s good.”

“You’re lucky eh Mom?” I laugh.

“Yeah, I’m the lucky fellow,” she says.

“I’m glad,” Shirley smiles.

“I’m the luckiest fellow,” Mom says with a big grin on her face. She holds the card in her hand, not sure what to do with it.

“Are you going to open the card Mom?” I ask. She looks at the card, does nothing. It’s a brain processing issue. She’s not able to initiate the process of opening the card.

“La la la la la la la look look look look look look look look to see to see to see to see to see oh tiss,” she says urgently.

“Yeah!” I agree. “Shall I help you open it?” I take the card out of the envelope. “Awwwwwwww,” I say as I hand it to her. I miss the mark on my tone of voice and she thinks there’s something wrong.

“What happened?” She’s a little alarmed. The card is trimmed in yellow with white polka dots.

“Look at that nice little kitten Mom,” I say, this time in a calmer, more positive tone.

“Nice little kitten…kitten kitten kitten kitten kitten kitten kitten kitten kitten,” she says.

“Yeah. It’s blowing out the candle on its birthday cupcake.”

“Oh gee! Isn’t that awful?” Sometimes aphasia causes her to say the opposite of what she means.

“Can you read what it says Mom? The kitten is blowing out a candle, and it says: ‘Make a wish!’”

“Make a wish,” Mom says. And, as if on cue, someone brings a wish into the room.

This is part two in three-part story; parts one and three are here, and here respectively.

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Care Partnering, Hope, Humour, Joy, Life & Living, Love

it’s better to be queer on your deer than funny on your bunny on your birthday

Version 2
Mom, Caroline (aka Big Bird) and I being “funny on your bunny” at Easter 2012

September 27, 2015 (this is part one in three-part story; parts two and three of this story are here, and here respectively):

Some days contain bits and pieces of quirky joy. Today, Mom’s 87th birthday is one of them. She’s sleeping lightly when I arrive at the facility.

“Hello,” I say as she opens her eyes. “Guess what? Today is your birthday.”

“It’s my bird day bird day bird day,” she is immediately playful.

“Yes! Shall I sing happy birthday to you?” I say, and then begin: “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you–”

“Happy birthday dear Mummy!” she completes before I can; I laugh.

“You’re 87 today Mom. What do you think about that?”

“I think I’m coming along,” she replies. I laugh again. She smiles. Her smiles have become occasional. Putting her shoes on and getting her up from the recliner and into her wheelchair take about ten minutes.

“We’re going to have tea Mom,” I say once she’s resettled. She starts clapping. She claps a lot these days. It’s how she expresses a whole range of emotions from excitement and pleasure to anger and frustration. The set of her jaw hints as to what she might be feeling at any given moment.

“Yay!” I verbalize her enthusiasm.

“Yay for the tea party!” She echoes, and claps a little harder. As we back into the elevator, I ask her to watch out for her elbows so she doesn’t bump them on the sides of the door. She pulls her arms a little closer to her body.

“That’s good, that’s good Mom. You knew exactly what to do when I said that,” I encourage while we reverse. “You’re getting smart in your old age,” I quip.

“I’m getting very smart in my old age!” She says, impish, and taps vigorously on my arm when I squat down beside the chair so she can see me.

“Smarter and smarter all the time,” I tease.

“It just gets better and better!” she fires back at me. I laugh hard.

“Oh oh oh oh, I’m getting sort of queer. Queer on your deer,” she jokes and rhymes.

“That’s okay Mom. It’s better to be queer on your deer than, than – “

“Funny on your bunny!” She fills in quick as a wink.

“Yeah. Better to be queer on your deer than funny on your bunny.”

Especially on your birthday.

Parts two and three of this story are here, and here respectively.


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