Saturday, December 4, 2010

Name Game

An occupational hazard of taking care of a loved one who has dementia is fear. Almost every day some minor memory glitch finds me grappling with a low level anxiety that doesn't ever completely recede. I'm afraid that what has happened to my mom will happen to me.

I've never been great with names, which is unfortunate, because I've been a teacher for 30 years; and an almost universal pet peeve of students and former students is running into a teacher who does not remember their name.

Wal-mart is a treacherous place under the best of circumstances, but during the Christmas season everything that oppresses me about the store is multiplied about tenfold. Crowded aisles along with a ridiculous over-abundance of color, lights, and purchasing choices all combine to cause me sensory overload. I tend to retreat inside myself to the point that I might not immediately recognize my own children if I met them cart to cart in the produce section. Unfortunately, it is when I am rushing through the aisles in my Wal-mart induced haze that I am most likely to meet a former student.

Teachers are not helped when parents choose to bestow similar names upon their offspring, who almost always resemble one another. I think of three little boys in our community who are named Tyler, Timothy, and Trent*. These three little T's do not only have names that begin the same; their resemblance to one another is strong. I have actually prayed not to confuse these guys' names, only to find myself calling Tyler, Trent; and then running through each name in succession until the child in question (often with an air of resigned disgust) corrects me.

Last night at Wal-mart a tall, rangy young man with a full beard and long, blond hair asked the dreaded question, "Mrs. Born, do you remember me?"

I actually thought that I did. "David?!" I said.

"Close," he responded. I'm his brother, Daniel. We do look alike. I chatted pleasantly with him for a few minutes and went on my way. I actually felt somewhat self-congratulatory that on a moment's notice I'd managed to find a family resemblance in the 20-year-old I'd last seen when he was six.

In the very next aisle a beautiful young woman approached me. "You probably don't remember me," she said.

Sherie???" I said.

"No, Sheila," she replied. Sherie is my sister and she's over in the clothing department if you want to say "Hi."

In retrospect I don't know whether to feel happy that I was able to remember the correct families or sad that I did not instantly recall the right name for each of those precious young people who greeted me last night. Perhaps I'd best choose to accentuate the positive.

One strong positive has just occurred to me; after approximately 15 years (and 15 pounds or so) they were still able to recognize me!

My former students each possess a portion of my heart, and I hate when I don't recognize them or fail to call them accurately by name. Once again I fall back on God's grace as today I say a prayer for Sheila (and her sister Sherie) and Daniel (and his brother David).

Scripture: "...though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isaiah 49:15).

*The children and their same first letter names are real, names are changed.


  1. Yes it does both students to get their names wrong. I had the same problem when I taught school full time, Linda!

    I am older than you are, retired and haven't gotten ALZ yet I read that Early Onset is hereditary, but not your mother's kind.

    Yep, shopping is awful now!


  2. I had a nice chuckle and a little tear from this. The tear for the fear...the chuckle for your wonderful realization that these now grown "students" still could recognize YOU!

  3. You did good. I worry alot about getting this disease too. I pray we don't .

  4. Thanks for the encouragement Carol. If I manage to live through this early retirement process I think there may indeed be hope for my future! Your words remind me of that. Blessings to you. Karen, your response touched my heart. I pray we don't, too. Saying a prayer for you right now. Pammie, as always, you bless my heart.