What’s in a Name?

In the first year of our marriage, my husband and I were tasked with picking the perfect name for our unborn son.  It is a surprisingly big undertaking, choosing a moniker that is going to identify someone his entire life.  After plenty of daydreaming and suggestions, we found a name that we both loved:  Theodore.  A bit old fashioned and not at all common in these parts.  Ready made for an adorable nickname.  We thought we were all set.

At a point in time where my mother’s words still had the possibility of affecting me, she asked me if we had chosen a name and I made the mistake of sharing it with her.  She made it clear that she hated the name.  We ultimately picked a new name and kept it to ourselves. Had we just waited, and introduced little Theo in his teeny newborn clothes, I cannot imagine anyone would have voiced an issue with our choice.

(The exception is always my daughter.  On many occasions, she has made it clear that we chose wrong for her, as she should have been named EllaRoseFlower).

Toward the end of the years when my mother was living semi-independently (i.e., only through the kindness and patience of family and a close friend), her warping mind determined she no longer wanted to be known by her married name.  She kept the surname when she divorced over 25 years earlier, so that she would continue to share her children’s last name.  But as her disease progressed, she became incensed about the use of her married name, and proclaimed her legal name to be her maiden name.  She went so far as to convince a few doctors’ offices to change her name on her file.

My mother was pretty agitated when she finally understood that she was admitted to the long term care facility, a place where she would never have chosen to live.  She wanted to go home, and repeatedly packed her belongings to be ready to leave, all at a time when she could not explain where home was.  After she incessantly voiced her complaints about the use of her married name, the facility removed her surname from the sign identifying the occupants in her room, which seemed to satisfy her for a time.

More than two years have passed, and of course, my mother’s disease progresses.  She no longer complains about her married name.  She has mostly accepted the tedium of this stage of her life, her 36 hour days.  She does not talk of leaving.  She spends time in bed.  She socializes sometimes and attends parts of the recreation activities.  She paces the hallway around 3pm each day, her witching hour, stuck in her own monotonous purgatory, from which I can briefly provide respite.

She does not seem to remember the names of our family, but I continue to show her pictures, describing everyone, and sometimes she surprises me, mentioning one of her brothers’ names.

When we selected names for our unborn children, we were filled with hope, imagining the possibilities in each child’s future.  Now, my mother’s name is a means of identification.  I write her name on her belongings, hoping that they will stay in her room.  The nurses and aides and volunteers kindly say my mother’s name as they direct her to a meal or an activity, or assist her in dressing or washing.

As her once-brilliant mind continues to muddle, as our family history has largely disappeared from her thoughts, for now she still seems to recognize her own name, selected by her parents with love, and I hope it brings her comfort.


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