There are zillions – no, kazillions – of things that my Mom told me over my lifetime that I will always remember, but there is one conversation that we had that will probably haunt me more than any other for the rest of my life. It was after my Dad died. Having been married for 54 years, Mom was utterly lost, lonely and heartbroken without her husband and best friend. While we made every effort to surround her with our love and support, we could not quench that aching void. I will always remember sitting with her on the balcony of her apartment one afternoon, listening to her heart-wrenching sobs, crying with her as my own heart ached for her (our) agony of absence, wishing I knew what we could do to help ease her through this profound grief.
Through all of the agony that spilled out of my Mom that afternoon, her most haunting words were “I never hear my name anymore.” It was unexpected and took me aback. It wasn’t something I had ever thought about until that moment…but those words have been ringing in my heart ever since.
“I never hear my name anymore.”
We hear our names a zillion times over the course of our life. We hear it from our parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family, teachers, coaches, spouses, co-workers and friends. It’s how the world knows who we are…how others know to distinctly identify us. Over time, our name becomes synonymous with our very self. Even God deemed our name important enough to reassure us that our name is precious to Him too – “I have called you by name, you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1.)
But let’s face it, there comes that time in our life when other names begin to take precedence. Our children call us “Mom” or “Dad”; friends and siblings might tend to not use our names much in normal everyday conversations; even our spouses often prefer to use terms of endearments more regularly than our first name.
That’s how it must have been for my Mom. My brothers and I always called her “Mom”; the grandchildren called her “Granny”; strangers called her “Ma’am” or “Mrs. Matthies”. I think the only person who may have called her “Shirley” after my Dad died would have been my husband. But the few hours that we were able to spend with her couldn’t make up for all the rest of the time that she sat alone in that apartment, suffering through the accumulation of so many sudden losses in her life (all four of her siblings died within a few short years of each other, as well as most of her closest friends, so by the time Dad died, she didn’t even have a sister or brother or best friend left to call.)
It’s possibly the same haunting plight of many, many people who languish alone in empty apartments or nursing homes all around us…how many elderly people regularly hear themselves being called by their first name after they’ve lost their spouses (and siblings and friends as well)? Children still call them Mom or Dad; grandchildren use special grandparent names; nursing staff often call their residents by their last names, or even use endearments such as “dearie”, “dear” or “sweetie”; others use “Ma’am” or “Sir”, “Mr” or “Mrs”. By the time Mom arrived at that stage of her life, there simply weren’t many people left who knew her by her first name. Clearly, she missed hearing her name.
That had a huge impact on me. It has since made me very conscious of using people’s first names whenever possible, especially the elderly, but also anyone else who may live alone. Names – and hugs – are two things that many elderly and lonely people often have to go without for long stretches of time. I know that, perhaps because I’ve been housebound myself for such long periods of time over recent years, I get a thrill now to hear people call me by my first name – and I can actually feel myself start to wither if I have to go for too long without enjoying a really good big warm hug. So I try to remember to pass those along whenever possible, to elderly neighbours and others who I know may not have too many opportunities for hugs or hearing their names.
It might seem to be a small thing to many of us and one that we might never think about, but based on my Mom’s anguished pouring out of her heart that day, I now understand that hearing one’s own first name is possibly one of the biggest things missing in the lives of many people around us.
Being called by name is something we don’t miss until it’s gone…
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Copyright © Sharon C. Matthies, Meanderings (blog), 2012. All rights reserved.