She - my father's mother - was a second mother to me. I wasn't her first grandchild (I was her sixth, actually) but I was the first one to live nearby. We lived with my grandparents for a time after I was born, and even after we moved out, my father dropped my mom and me off at their house every day for two years on his way to work. My grandmother took care of me while my mom took care of her.
She had heart failure, so my mother cooked their meals, did the laundry and other household chores. Giving up those duties was no easy task for my grandmother. She was very proud of her housekeeping skills and kept an immaculate home. The only reason she was able to let someone else take over was because she now had me to care for. She held me, pushed me in my carriage and rocked me. I was her job, and she loved it.
When she returned to the doctor a few months later he was surprised at how well she was doing. Her heart was much better than he had expected it to be. "That baby saved my life," she told him.
I loved her as much as she loved me. We were so close that I directed my first words at her, and her name forever became Dada to me and, eventually, my younger sisters.
I was so young that my memories are hazy. There was my grandparents' enormous mansion of a house with a huge, grand staircase that may or may not actually be considerably smaller than it seemed to a then-five-year-old.
I remember playing at their house, inside, outside, in the musty basement. Sitting at her vanity in her perfumed bedroom.
I can't remember a lot of things - like her voice. Or anything she said to me. What I can remember - like it was yesterday - is the day I found out that she had died. My mom picked my sisters and me up from the babysitter's and told us in the car. I remember feeling frozen, like my world had stopped, desperately trying not to cry. That feeling, of trying to hold in tears, lasted for years.
I remember the funeral, seeing my grandmother, the party after at our house where I ate white rolls with mayonnaise, eventually escaping to the next door neighbor's where their babysitter, an older woman, was sitting outside. I remember asking her why people were happy and having a party if someone had died. I don't remember what she said.
Life went on, but I never dealt with the grief in a healthy way and it began to seep out as anxiety. I was afraid of death, of nuclear war, hijacked planes, whatever dictator was in the news. As a teenager I prayed for my grandmother, and for her intercession. I begged God to give me signs from her, to the point that I might have lost faith had I not received one. Thankfully, that prayer was answered when my mom gave me my grandmother's Rosary that she had found. I remember opening the case and immediately being hit by the scent of her perfume. It - a piece of her - had been trapped in that little plastic box for a decade.
I received another piece of her when Ryan asked me to marry him. I wear her diamond every single day in my engagement ring.
Early on, I knew I would name a daughter after her. Esther. It wasn't your average baby name, but that didn't matter. It wasn't even something I needed to decide; it just was.
I don't remember telling Ryan that our daughter would be named Esther, but I know I did soon after we started dating and he was always on board. I often told others about the name as well, and even had a plan if I were to have twins.
But when we found out we would be adopting a little girl in Louisiana, I got cold feet. Esther. What would people think? It's not exactly what you think of calling a tiny baby girl. Instead of nine months, we had two days to pick a name and I talked myself out of it.
Ryan liked Clare. I loved Clara. And we couldn't use Esther for a middle because, well, you just never know. Maybe one day I'd get another chance and not lose my nerve.
I have never regretted naming Clara. She's such a Clara, and I love her name as much as the day we chose it. And, I should probably mention, my grandmother's mother was a Clara. So there's that. But I did beat myself up a bit about that whole "caring what people think" thing. That's always been a problem of mine.
A month before we found out that we'd possibly be adopting another baby girl, I was visiting my parents up north and talking baby names with my two sisters, one of whom was expecting. If I ever have another girl, I told them, I'm naming her Esther for sure. I've named two kids already and have more confidence in my naming abilities, I said. Who cares what anyone else thinks!
Little did I know I'd get that opportunity just a couple months later. Once we found out the baby was a girl, we never even discussed another option. We chose Grace for a middle name because of Our Lady of Grace's role in both of our adoptions, and because I thought it softened the first name. We also new we'd call her Essie, just like my grandmother was called (she was "Grandma Essie" to my older cousins). I always knew that. So this little one became Essie Grace in our house before she was even born. Hearing that said in the voice of a lisping two-year-old makes it difficult to go back on.
As her birth drew near, reality set in that this was an adoption and there would be more to naming her than just writing it on a birth certificate. There was someone else involved, and even though we were the ones responsible for choosing her name, I worried that her birth mother would not approve of our choice. More than anything, I desperately did not want to disappoint her. I thought about changing it to something else, but Ryan wouldn't budge. (Have I mentioned that he's amazing?)
Admittedly, I worried about it an inordinate amount. Even at the time, I knew I was probably shifting my fear and anxiety about the adoption onto this issue of the name, but I couldn't help it. My friends and family tried to calm my nerves, but I continued to build up that moment in my mind, despite having every reason to believe that this very sweet young woman would have no problem with the name. I played it over and over in my mind - what I'd say to her, how I'd quickly tell her we'd be calling her Essie, since that seemed to fit a newborn baby a little better.
Of course, as it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. Essie's birth mom, and entire family, was so kind and welcoming that first night in her hospital room. She liked the name. All the worry left my body.
We have heard some interesting reactions to it. "Is that a family name?" is the most common (which I take to mean, "You couldn't possibly have just chosen that old lady name out of the clear blue for your daughter. Did someone hold a gun to your head?"). But, just as often, I hear from people who are pleasantly surprised by it. There's apparently a lot of us who like old-lady names.
I have always felt like my grandmother has been close to me, all these years. My mother even had a dream very early on in my infertility journey, before we really knew how serious the struggle would be, where I was holding a baby. My grandmother was there and said to her, "Don't worry. It's the Infant of Prague." (I wrote a post about it here.) It started me on a devotion to the Infant, which I have to this day. And it was also the catalyst for me to begin praying for my grandmother's intercession in growing my family. I believe that she - as well as my mom's mom, who died while we were waiting to adopt - has played a part in the blessings we have been given. If we believe in the Communion of Saints, then I would hope those who loved me most in this life are interceding for me in the next one, too.
After struggling with her death for so long, I slowly found peace with it, in that way where you look back at something, years later, and realize you haven't grieved it in as long as you can remember. I now cry happy tears when someone mentions my grandmother and how thrilled she'd be that her name lives on.
And do we ever love her, too. Ryan said today, as we sat around our kitchen table, that she couldn't be anything other than our sweet Essie Grace. It's true. I finally have my Esther. And God always knew it would be her.