Published: May 2007
Related Topics: People
It was a funeral at St. Jude's for a long-time parishioner. I was co-presiding, and there were several eulogies. The deceased had suffered from Alzheimer's for the last decade of his life, eventually becoming so weak and fragile that for several months before he died, he was confined almost exclusively to bed.
It was his granddaughter who delivered the most powerful eulogy I had ever heard.
She talked about those ten years, ten years of being in a relationship with her grandfather as his mind slowly deteriorated. There was a need to live in the moment when spending time with him, to embrace him, to speak with him, to enjoy activities with him, even if all of those interactions weren't cumulative in the same way that we expect them to be in relationships with people who can store those interactions into a memory bank. Even if those interactions were simply confined to a detached episode where one human being feels the companionship and care of another for a moment. Only ever a moment.
Of course it's jarring when this person you love doesn't remember your name, she said at the end. "And then you discover that your name isn't the most important thing about who you are."
You discover that your name isn't the most important thing about who you are.
Those words, that statement, rings in my head. Surprising. Counter-intuitive. Impossible.
I'm quite sure that I'm not alone in being quite comfortable with the assumption that my name is the most important thing about who I am. Making a name for myself. Isn't that what we all want? To be recognized by others by name and by all of the particular characteristics and successes that go with that name? I can certainly speak for myself anyway and say that I spend a significant amount of energy and worry wondering whether the output I give is of high enough quality, quantity, value, to give weight to my name--to my existence, to justifying the space I take up and the air I breathe in.
For those of you who read the Niagara Anglican regularly, you've already read some of my thoughts on pregnancy. Apparently it's normal to be a little one-track-minded when you're carrying a child, and so I'm going to elaborate some further insights that have been unfolding for me on this incomparable journey.
I have to confess, that in the early stages of my pregnancy becoming public, I was disconcerted not only by how this child was taking over my body, but how it was also taking over my name. By that I mean, that I started to get lost. No longer did anyone want to talk to me about my thoughts, ideas, opinions, about how I was spending my time and what was going on in my head. People wanted to talk to me about the baby, how the baby was doing, how the doctor said the baby was doing, how I was doing carrying the baby, whether I'd picked names, whether it was a boy or a girl. On the one hand, I would launch into my answers with great relish, enjoying the chance to talk about my new favourite topic. And on the other hand, I confided to a few close friends this back-of-my-mind nagging fear that my identity had been reduced to an occupied uterus.
But then there was that funeral at St. Jude's. There were those words, "you find out that your name isn't the most important thing about who you are."
Those words opened something for me. Opened some reflection. Opened me to wondering.
Maybe I was getting lost in pregnancy. And maybe getting lost was allowing me a glimpse into something that is most important about who we are.
Something about the sincere, almost uncontainable, excitement that people of all stages and dispositions exhibit when talking about pregnancy, childbirth, parenthood....
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