In November 2016, a few days after arriving at Benefis Peace Hospice in Great Falls, Montana, my wonderful husband, Doug, became confused and agitated. He’d been living with penile cancer for thirteen months and was near the end of a very painful journey, yet until that evening he had maintained his usual jovial demeanor. I quickly pressed the call button and then reassured him until the nurse arrived, thankful to be among competent and loving caregivers at such a scary moment.
When Doug and I married it meant a lot to him that I take his last name, and so I did it to please him even though I had finally found peace in being myself, Annie Barron. I’d been married and divorced before, and also had changed my name to make my childhood nickname, “Annie”, become my legal first name (Public Service Announcement: please, for the sanity of kids everywhere, if you are going to call your children by nicknames, put those nicknames on their birth certificates...I thank you). Five name changes later, I now anticipate name change number six, which I am determined will be my last.
What’s in a name? Identity, belonging, acceptance, community…confusion, isolation, disorientation, longing…a name is a declaration of personal qualities and a pronunciation of membership to an exclusive group called “family.”
Today is my birthday. It also is the eighth month-i-versary of the day my beloved took his last breath. If you've been following our journey, you know that Doug and I wondered and talked about self-love very often after he lost his penis to cancer. Doug wondered whether he was enough - for me, for the world - and I wondered what it would take for both of us to embrace our new reality.
We believed that self-love was essential and, both of us being writers, we wanted to find an adjective that conveyed not only the relief that self-love would bring, but also the struggle that would be required if we were going to overcome the painful, negative, fearful thoughts that ran amok in our minds. We decided that nothing short of Absolute Self-Love would get us through, and we helped each other remember that self-love was an option on those days when despair or self-loathing seemed the only appropriate response to our circumstances.