Losing My ‘Naming Rights’

My cousin named her daughter after my mom before I could.

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The author and her mother, Lottie (Courtesy of My cousin named her daughter after my mom before I could.)

I crawled into my mom’s bed, trying not to lie on her oxygen cord or blood pressure monitor — the device helping her breathe and the device letting us know she was still here.

After years of struggling with a rare disease called amyloidosis, my Mom had days, maybe hours, left here on earth with us. As I lay there next to her frail but determined body, it dawned on me — she wouldn’t know my kids. My husband and I didn’t have any yet.

Even though I knew it would take everything in me not to cry, I turned to my Mom joyfully and said, “Mom, did you know that I will be naming my first daughter Lottie?” This was my Mom’s beautiful and unique name. She turned her head towards me as much as she could and just smiled, imagining it. Something in me took over. I lay there with a dry face and a steady voice and talked to her about how amazing her grandchildren would be. I wanted her to know that there would be another “little Lottie” someday, her grandchild.

My mom passed away peacefully in her sleep a few days later. Devastation and grief are words that don’t begin to describe your worst nightmare coming true. As I wailed on the hospital floor next to my mom’s body, her hands still warm to the touch, my mind turned to my future children, who would never know her laugh, wisdom, and unconditional love the way I did.

READ: What’s in a Namesake?

Two months into my grief journey, I was on the phone with my cousin, who was five months pregnant. I listened to her talk about how she was only considering family names for her daughter-to-be. My stomach sank. I had a feeling before I asked — she wants to name this child Lottie, doesn’t she? I tried to compose myself even though my heart was racing, my mouth was dry and my stomach was on the floor. As we wrapped up the conversation, I decided to go for it. “Can I make a request?” I asked timidly.

Over the next few weeks, we went back and forth on this. I requested that she use Lottie as a middle name instead, leaving me the honor of being “the first” to name my child after my mom. I pleaded with her, tears in my eyes, that this was the only thing I have left of my mom. “Your mother lives in the same city as you,” I said desperately at the end of our last call.

But she persisted. As a soon-to-be single mother, my cousin felt that one of the few benefits she had was that she did not have to answer to anyone regarding name selection. She told me this was her decision and hers alone, and I was not to try to influence the decision. Why were they acting like Lottie was just “any other name” or a name I simply didn’t like, instead of a name that carried enormous significance?

My pain and grief worsened. It felt like that irreplaceable moment with my mom and my special naming rights as her only daughter were being overshadowed at best, stolen at worst. I was shattered that my cousin wasn’t honoring or even considering my heartfelt request. I was devastated that her Lottie would be “first,” and so soon after my Mom’s death. I felt blind-sided.

READ: As My Wife’s Due Date Approached, My Mother Was Defying Death

Even though I knew intellectually that my mom was never coming back, I kept looking for her in the actions and words of others. When I spoke to my cousin, I expected her to just “get it,” the way my mom would have. When I spoke to my cousin’s mother, I expected to find the unconditional love, support, and kindness I always found in my mother. What I got instead felt cold and indifferent to my well-being. When my father called to say he thought I should back off, I was secretly hoping for the deep empathy I associated with my mother. I never found it, because he was not her.

Still, in talking things through, my dad and I eventually came to understand each other. He was afraid of creating rifts in the family. He wanted to maintain peace and unity during a time when we desperately needed extra family support and care. He understood my point of view and supported my position and echoed my request.

My cousin had her baby more than a year ago and gave her the first name Lottie. And while I love that child, my feelings of hurt about this situation have not changed — in fact, they’ve deepened with time. Many logical arguments have been made to me in the hopes I will change my mind and my heart on this issue. What if I only have boys? Why can’t there be more than one Lottie? Isn’t that proof of how loved she was?

These are all valid arguments, but they don’t really matter. Grief is rooted in emotion, and those who haven’t been through something similar often struggle to relate. Yes, my reasons are emotional, but that doesn’t invalidate them. They’re tied to my deep bond with my mom and my experience of grief at this moment.

Many logical arguments have been made: What if I only have boys? Why can’t there be more than one Lottie? Isn’t that proof of how loved she was?

In some ways, this whole experience with my cousin made me miss my mother on a deeper level than before. I’ve wondered what she would say about my situation, what she would do. Even now,  I sometimes close my eyes and talk to my Mom about this. In my mind, we have a conversation. She’s calm, compassionate, and understanding — she sees my pain.

But she’s practical, too. If there’s no peaceful compromise to be had between the two parties, she tells me, then I will have to learn to live with this and make peace with it in myself. And I realize that this situation is a painful example of the bigger picture. I will have to learn to live with the loss of my mother — and, in a sense, the loss of my cousin and her family, with whom I’d always been close.

But now, in the second act of my life, my job is to focus on keeping my mother with me. My children will be her grandchildren and therefore a part of her. Nothing — not even another child named Lottie — can take that from me.

Katherine Austin-Evelyn is a New York-based philanthropic consultant. She is learning to navigate a world without her mother’s physical presence. She writes about her loss for her own therapeutic purposes and in the hopes that her experiences will help others feel less alone. You can follow her on Twitter @katherine_ae

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