I have a son. His favorite food is chocolate chip banana bread. He loves taking baths, but is scared of swimming. His favorite color is blue. His name is Freddie.
I have a daughter. Her favorite food was cheese (orange cheddar or anything plucked from the top of pizza). She loved being read to and believed every book was a touch-and-feel. Her favorite toy was a giraffe stacker. Her name is Bethie.
Past and present tense are confusing when you’ve lost a child. Conversation in general is confusing when you’ve lost a child. Particularly for strangers. Words often stall and sometimes even stop when I bring up Bethie. People aren’t sure what to say or how to say it. I typically keep talking myself in an attempt to put them at ease. I take pride in my ability to roll with whatever question or comment comes my way. People most often mean well, and it’s important to remember that. I have had some questions that I didn’t love, but even those I’ve answered with at least a small smile.
Upon finding out that we have a son on earth and a daughter in heaven, one person asked, “Oh, which did you like better? Having a boy or a girl?”
I don’t remember my reply, but I know I said something relatively polite and moved the conversation forward (followed by a quick escape).
There is another reason I keep talking, though, and it is selfish. I keep the conversation going because talking about Bethie fills me with joy. I don’t mind the questions, even the seemingly inappropriate ones, because it allows me to love my daughter out loud. I need these moments. I desperately want to say her name. And if discomfort sometimes arises, I will happily handle it because I am sharing her story.
There is one question, though, that painfully twists my heart. Several times, upon telling strangers and new acquaintances that I have a daughter in heaven, I have heard the following:
“Oh, I’m so sorry. What was her name?”
Her name is Bethie.
So many things have to be said in the past tense now. I cannot give updates on books she loves, skills she masters, words she mispronounces, and everything else parents share with pride in the present tense. I am not where she is, and she is no longer in my arms. All of her stories have passed; they are behind us, and it is acutely painful. Her name, though, still exists. A name we carefully chose for her, and a name that lives with us until we are with her again. And what I cling to, firmly and fiercely, is the knowledge that she is still my daughter – my Bethie.
When we lost her, I was forced to give up to the past her life and everything physical about loving her, but I refuse to allow the past to take her name too.
I have a daughter. She will always be my daughter. And her name is Bethie.