Friday, August 8, 2014

Carrying Forward A Legacy

Last week, I was in Baltimore where most of my mother's family is buried. We were actually there for my brother's wedding, yet since we are so rarely in Baltimore, it seemed appropriate to take the morning to go to the cemetery as a family.

As I was preparing my three year-old for the visit, I explained that a cemetery is a place where we remember those we love. It is a mitzvah to visit a cemetery and place stones on the graves. So, when we arrived at the cemetery, my daughter immediately set upon the task of finding enough stones for everyone. She was eager to place them where we said and was excited to "do a mitzvah."

I invited her to come over to her great-grandmother Irene's headstone. I was very close to my grandmother and my daughter was named for her. I pointed to the name Irene and asked, "Who do you know who has Irene in her name?" "Me!" my daughter proclaimed. This gave me an opportunity to say that she was named for someone who was brave, who loved family, and who was very special to her mommy and her Savta (grandmother). 

Standing in that cemetery, I was struck by how much my daughter does embody parts of my grandmother. I thought about how my grandmother would always raise her hands in excitement when I arrived for a visit, and how my daughter uses her hands when she wants to make a strong point. I think of my daughter's love of nail polish and how my grandmother did her best to keep a manicure. I think of how my grandmother, when she went into hospice, lamented how she would never see my children. Yet, 6 1/2 years later, I believe she does get to see her children in some way. I could feel in this moment of memory how delighted she would be in them, and in me as a mother. 

When we name our children for family, we are endowing them with a legacy. We are hoping and praying that they will take on the positive qualities of those we love and will maintain a memory for our entire family. In a way, we fulfill an obligation to remember our loved ones by passing on their name, and all that represents. The name, though, is only the first part. It is the stories, the memories, the "wow, your grandma used to do that" moments, that invite our children to actively carry forward this legacy. If we only say, "You were named for our relative," we miss the opportunity to make our children the bearer of a piece of history. 

I stood at the grave of my great-aunt Florence. She was my grandmother's favorite sister and died young. My mother chose to name me for Florence (which is why my name is spelled the way it is). Yet, that's the sum total of the stories I know about Aunt Florence. I never really thought to ask. For my daughter, I had the opportunity to start telling the stories about Grandma Irene in a way that makes sense to a preschooler. I hope that, with time, she will not only know why she was named for Irene, but what her great-grandmother meant to me. My stories will become hers, and then Irene Hurwitz Pollock's legacy and memory truly becomes a blessing.