Meaning In Names

It’s been a while since my last entry. I could explain why I avoided writing, how many emotions I’ve cycled through, how hard it’s been to see my mom decline, how much I have leaned on and how grateful I am for my chosen family, but I don’t want to do that, not yet anyway. I want to talk about names.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the names I’ve used for my mom. She explicitly forbade me from calling her by her first name. I can almost hear her saying “I’m your mother, not your friend!”, which may sound harsh, but it was meant in a loving way.

When I was very young, I called her Mommy, which I think is pretty typical for anyone. I had that childhood innocence and hadn’t yet gone into pre-puberty, so she was Mommy to me. I was very shy when I was young, often hiding behind my mom when she introduced me to new people. Her perfume of choice was White Linen by Estee Lauder and I still have the last two bottles she ever bought. I haven’t been able to bring myself to even open them.

As I grew older, she became Mom. Our relationship changed, as everyone’s does. We went through some very low lows but she never gave up on me, even if we screamed at each other. During the worst part of my high school depression, I remember screaming that I wanted her to give me up to the state and that I hated her. I’m sure that hurt her a lot, but she never stopped fighting for me and the help I needed.

When I got really annoyed with her or was teasing her, she was Mother. It’s very formal, at least to me, but that’s what she called my grandmother. I didn’t call her that very often.

Now she is Mama. When I go visit, I greet her the same way every time: “Hi Mama, how are you?” It feels more appropriate to use this version and it somehow also makes me feel like a little girl again. Her health has taken a steep decline in the last few weeks, though the nurses assure me that everything is “treatable.” Honestly, it feels like she is approaching the end of her life. She can barely sit up on her own, can’t form words, and she has lost so much weight. I don’t want to lose her, but the truth is that I lost her spirit and our relationship long before this.

A congregant has been putting my mom’s name into morning minyan for a few months now. I have always associated Mi Shebeirach with wanting the person to be healed, to restore them to their former self, to reverse whatever is ailing them. My mom is past that point and I asked Rabbi Stern if it was selfish of me to keep her name on that list. He said that, for him, in cases like this, Mi Sheiberach is a prayer that this person’s transition be peaceful, not for a reversal of their sickness. That’s all I want for her, even if it means she will be gone. After everything she has been through, she deserves peace.

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