I hear my voice. I hear my words. I cannot stop:
“As my Mother always said…”
“My Dad thought…”
“Wouldn’t she have gotten a kick out of that?!”
I hear myself saying these words and I see my friends’ expressions. Their eyes dart quickly; they look away.
She is talking about her Mom again. What will happen next?
Will she implode…?
I see my friends look to the side; at their feet; at each other. I know they want to change the subject. But for me, just saying their names gives me great comfort. It is not enough to say their names silently; to keep them secreted away. I have to say their names out loud. Because for just that sliver of a moment, as I say their names out loud,
They are gone;
They are not gone;
They are but a memory;
They are standing right here.
Before my mother died, I did not know that names had magical powers. A few weeks after her death, I got my first clue.
A friend had arranged for a Mass in honor of my Mother, and on a brisk Sunday morning, my husband and I walked the four blocks down Lexington Avenue to the local Catholic Church.
I had no expectations; I felt an obligation to be there. I could have ignored the buzzing alarm clock.
Or not set the alarm at all.
Even though it was weeks after her death, I was still numb; every step was difficult; every day was exhausting.
And then I heard her name.
As the Mass began, a distinct, sonorous voice filled the church: “This celebration of the Mass is in honor of the life of Louise Bonner Swift.”
And later in the prayers, the priest again proclaimed: “and for Louise whom we remember here today.”
And while I am sure the other congregants didn’t notice, the priest said it and I heard it, loud and clear.
I knew the ritual of the Mass. I had experienced this moment thousands of times before. I must have heard countless names from the altar, but they had been lost on me. Not anymore.
I heard her name and I felt lighter. I felt stronger. It was inexplicable. I actually felt joy for the first time in weeks.
And later, I remembered.
I remembered that after my father died, my Mom wouldn’t stop talking about him. It seemed like everywhere we went, she kept saying his name.
“As Mike always said…”
“Mike thought… ”
“Wouldn’t Mike get a kick out of that?!”
And one day, I had heard enough. I got mad at her. “Stop already. Please. He is dead. Stop talking about him.”
As I think back, I cannot fathom how hurt she must have been.
She turned to me, “Don’t you miss him? You never say anything. Don’t you miss him?”
“Oh, Mama,” I protested, exasperated; “How do you not know? Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him! Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him! Not a day goes by that I don’t want him back! “
“Well,” she responded,” you never say a word.”
And then she stopped saying his name, at least around me; at least not as frequently.
As I write those words today, I cannot believe how wrong I was.
And now, I know. It must have given you so much comfort to say his name.
And now, as my friends look sideways, they must want to say to me what I said to you.
But now, I know. It gives me so much comfort to say his name; to hear your name, out loud.
And so I promise:
I will call your name. And I will not stop.