July 26, 2008
In my post about my mother, I mentioned a beloved grandmother. She died a few years ago, but I think of her often. She actually was my husband’s paternal grandmother, not mine, but I was very close to her — closer than I am to my own grandparents. My husband was even closer to her, of course, much closer to her than to his own mother. Frankly, his grandmother did a lot more to raise him than his mother. Also frankly, I am very glad he takes after his grandmother (and his father and grandfather and other grandparents and the dog) more than his mother.
[The benefit of a secret anonymous blog is that you can tell the truth about your mother-in-law.]
Thinking about his grandmother is one of the saddest parts about infertility. With all of my heart, I wish that I could have had a baby years ago. Not just because infertility has been awful, but because I wish that his grandmother could have been alive to meet the baby. Just imagining the warmth in her smile, her eyes dancing, with the baby in her arms, makes me cry. I have photos of her with my husband as a baby, and she always looks like her heart is going to burst with love for him. I know it would have been just the same for my baby, maybe even moreso, because her beloved grandson would have a baby of his own, and she would have loved us all, so so much.
A few months before she died, she and I had a quiet, intimate conversation. I asked her permission, if we ever had a son, to name the child after her late husband. She said, so gently, “I have thought about that, many times. That would make me very happy.” I cannot convey to you the warmth of her smile when she said that.
A month before she died, she and I had a long conversation about family. We talked about a cousin I had just seen, whom I hadn’t seen since we were little kids. She asked me if I planned to keep in contact with the cousin. I didn’t. She urged me to maintain contact. “You know that for me, family is the most important thing.” I said, “I know,” but that I was selective about which family I stay in contact with, that this cousin and I had never been close and didn’t have much in common. She said, “To me, none of that matters. They are all your family.”
DH and I have had baby names picked out for years, even before TTC. A girl’s name that we’ve loved from the beginning, and a boy’s middle name after his late maternal grandfather. After his late paternal grandfather died, we figured out a first name for a boy that derives from that grandfather’s name. But, because his grandmothers both outlived his grandfathers (the other grandmother is still alive, and very spunky for a woman in her late 90′s), and DH’s cultural tradition is not to name a child after a living person, we hadn’t picked out any names to honor his grandmother. But the more I keep thinking about it, the more I know that we have to name a baby girl, if we have one, after his grandmother. We haven’t settled on a name yet, and until I’m finally pregnant for more than a couple of weeks I don’t think we’ll break out the baby name books to start narrowing it down. But we’ll find something lovely.
His grandmother was one of the gentlest, yet strongest, people I have ever known. She survived the WWII concentration camps and the loss of her entire family. She lived with a chronic illness for 60 years that resulted from her time in the camps. She escaped her home country with her husband and little boy in the midst of a violent revolution. When her husband died, she learned to be independent, learning to do basic tasks like use the ATM. She held so strongly to her faith, trying to teach by example but never telling her children or grandchildren how to live their lives. She loved animals, and over 50 years later still cried about the dog that she’d had to leave behind when she fled her homeland. She accepted and loved her granddaughter-in-law from a different background, even though her culture said she shouldn’t. She never let us come over without eating “just a little piece of fruit,” and she never let us leave her house without some candy. She knew the score, but unlike every other person in the family she never said a bad word about anyone.
When you name a child after someone, you are trying to honor that person. When you name a child after yourself, well frankly I don’t know what you’re doing because I would never do that, so I really have no idea what the motivations are. But when you name a child after someone else, someone that you love and respect, often you hope that the child will take after that person in some way, that you will draw some of that person’s qualities to the child.
My future daughter, if I have one, will never get a chance to meet her great-grandmother, but her middle name will always remind her of how much this incredible woman loved her, even before she existed. Her middle name will remind her of all that her great-grandparents sacrificed for her grandfather, for her father, for her. I would love for my little girl to be gentle yet strong, brave, kind to animals, and never say a bad word about anyone. My daughter couldn’t possibly have a better namesake.