Why did your parents give you your first and middle names? Do you have more than three names? Is there a Jr. III, or Ph.D. after your last name? Do you have a title in front, like Dr. or Rev. or—if you’re in Congress—Honorable? During the recent presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton was often introduced as, “Secretary Clinton.” That represented a traditional gesture of respect towards her for the last official office (Secretary of State) she had held.
Let’s focus on middle names. Why do you have that name?
For me it’s “George.” As far as I know, it was chosen because it was Dad’s middle name. Beyond that spare early fact, George later inspired personal connections to cartoon characters and World War II heroes. During high school a few jokingly called me “George of the Jungle,” a reference to a dumb cartoon on television. There was also the famous World War II military figure, General George Patton (note his “misspelled” last name!), which led to a few “general” nicknames. And let’s not forget the nursery figure, Georgie-Porgie*. When bad as a kid, my little used middle name served as a warning for impending doom. If my parents demanded that Lawrence George Patten come to them “right now,” it was Trouble, with a capital T.
What about your middle name? What’s the history? Has it prompted lasting nicknames or is it part of lifelong family stories?
But why ponder names when my usual subject is hospice?
We had several families with kids attend my hospice’s monthly “Remembrance Service.” I sat near one of those families while our hospice chaplains led the service. Midway through the worship experience, the names of recently deceased loved ones are read. The ringing of a brass prayer bowl follows each name. As simple as it is, the invoking of the name accompanied with the sweet, lingering tone of the bowl feels elegant and appropriate.
After one particular name was spoken, I heard a child behind me whisper . . . That’s Daddy.
Our Remembrance Service is brief. It includes elements from several different religions and doesn’t emphasize one faith over another. It is a service that likely resonates with those with a strong faith, along with those weary or wary of religion . . . but who still seek to honor their beloved. The chaplains include accessible (and universal) symbols like roses, water, and light. Still, for all its brevity and clarity, the service might bore children!
Until they hear a parents’ name.
They know that name.
And probably every kid has a nickname for the lovely and loving family member who has just died: like Daddy or Mommy or Pops or Ma. And with beloved grandparents, there’s Nana and Gramps or Grandma and Papa. The name and “nickname” and the relationship are part of the ongoing tone of a child’s life.
Each of our names has a history. Each of our names continues to help create a family’s living story when we include them in conversations. Too often, after a loved one’s death, we hesitate to speak the name. I hope you don’t. I hope you keep sharing the name in all of the wonderful, whimsical, and wacky stories of your family.
However, I understand why some can’t or won’t say the name. In the grief groups I’ve facilitated, we usually have a time, early in the group’s life, when participants are invited to share a few introductory and “safe” thoughts about themselves. Often they will include the loved one’s name. Or I should say, she or he tries to include the name. But it’s too emotional. It’s too soon after the death. Saying the name aloud is like opening a flimsy, hastily built door and suddenly all of the weeping and memories and regrets return with a vengeance. If you don’t speak the name, you might avoid falling apart. If you don’t speak the name, you might avoid embarrassing tears, ragged breathing, or exposing raw, out-of-control feelings.
For many (but not for all), they are able to speak and share their beloved’s name near the end of the group’s sessions. Trust has been built. Healing is underway. Saying the name invites good memories and gentler tears.
Names matter. Put the name on a new Christmas stocking. Include it in holiday letters. If you are able, donate to an organization that honors your loved one’s values and may also post his or her name. Some of your dearest friends or closest family memories may not want to speak the name for fear of upsetting you . . . and so, when you are ready, be the first to share the name to give others “permission.”
As is so often the case, I learn from children. I hear a name read and it’s immediately followed by a quiet, assured . . . That’s Daddy. It is a Daddy with a first, middle, and last name. It is the Daddy who, with an unfair sadness, and with a loss that will always impact that child’s (and family’s) life, has a name worth speaking and remembering.
(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)
* Sing it with me . . .
Georgie Porgie, Pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry,
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran awayby