Juliette Marie: The Story Behind the Name

We only had two names during this whole pregnancy.

Juliette Marie, if it was a girl.

Everett William, if it was a boy.

I’m still mourning the loss of Everett a little. I really loved that name. We were going to call him Ever or Rett for short and I imagined that he would have long blond hair and ride a skateboard and be just as tan as his sister. Everett was the name of one of my father’s brothers, and William is Greg’s father’s name. As we did with Veronica Chatterton (Veronica for her great-grandmother, Chatterton being my mother’s maiden name), we wanted to give our new child a name that honored the people who had come before her in this life.

Hence, Juliette Marie. Said simply, Juliette is inspired by my friend Julie who died when I was twenty-one, and Marie is Greg’s maternal grandmother’s name, as well as his mother’s middle name. It’s also soft and romantic and goes well with Veronica. We plan to call her Jules or Jette for short, and I imagine she’ll have blond hair like her sister, be just as tan, and maybe she’ll be the sporty sister who will ride skateboards and take martial arts with her dad.

But there’s more to this story than just those things.

I’ve been hesitant to write this post because it’s emotional for me. My friend Julie has been gone for eleven years and sometimes I wonder if I’ve ever really processed that loss. It’s such a different experience to lose a peer, especially one so young, than it is to lose someone older than you. Julie died of leukemia two days after her 22nd birthday. She was beautiful and brave and smart and had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. Yes, those are all the things you say about someone who dies young, but they were actually true of Julie before she ever got sick.

I’ve written the story of my friendship with Julie many times, but it bears repeating in the telling of this name story. Julie and I met in high school but didn’t become friends until after we’d graduated. However, when that friendship began, it grew swift and it grew strong. I often think that I just wasn’t ready to become friends with Julie until after I’d lost my mother and had finally opened my eyes to the world — a bright, beautiful, harsh one that Julie was long familiar with.

We lived in different cities for most of our friendship — both of us skipping through different colleges on different coasts — Oregon, Georgia, New York, Vermont and London. We wrote letters to each other every week — long ones in which we spilled out our deepest hopes and our greatest fears, things we told no one else. We talked on the phone when we could, soft, breathy conversations that traversed miles and miles of distance. During most of this time I was in New York, drowning in grief over my mother and in a stifling relationship I couldn’t find a release from. Julie was my touchstone — everything about her made me feel like there might be something else possible for me, if I could just find my way through these hard years.

The night she called me to tell me that she had been suddenly diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, I knew immediately that she would die. Maybe life just seemed too bleak at the time to imagine anything else than another horrific loss in a series I’d already experienced, but there was also something too bright and too beautiful about Julie to sustain this world.

I keep saying these things about her but not explaining them. It’s hard to describe someone who seemed more evolved than anyone you’ve ever met. Simply put, Julie had this remarkable ability to love everyone around her. She had that thing that makes people flock to gurus or disappear into yoga or some other spirituality. She was the kindest, most accepting person I’ve ever come across. She radiated love and acceptance in such a generous way that, looking back, it’s almost impossible to believe. Everyone she came into contact with — from mechanics who patched her tires to cops who pulled her over for running red lights, from boys and girls, parents and teachers, little kids and elderly people — reacted to her warmth, opening themselves up instantly and with just as much love. It was stunning to witness.

So when she called to say that she had cancer, it almost seemed fitting. Because really, is it possible for one person to hold so much love and light throughout their life? I wasn’t sure.

I know that when she died, it left all of us stunned. Not just those of us who had sat alongside her in AP History or who had smoked cigarettes with her on some rooftop at 4AM contemplating the night sky, but those too that I’ve mentioned — the people she came into contact with only now and then, or even never again. She left a mark on all of us, and her death a scar that reminds each of us what it really means to love — not the usual love we dole out through our days, but the unconditional, selfless love that we should each seek to achieve throughout our life.

A few days before she died, I sat next to her bedside in a hospital in Atlanta. She was crying because she had just had to say goodbye to her little sister. It was the only time I’d really seen her look so bereft and lost. She hadn’t known how to say goodbye, and she’d wished that she knew a little better about where she was going. At twenty-two, Julie had never known anyone who had died. “I’m worried there won’t be anyone there to meet me,” she whispered. I cried and told her that my mom would be there. I don’t know if I simply knew that to be true in the moment, or if there was more to it than that, but in some way I really believed it when I said it.

I told Julie one other thing that day.

I told her I would name a child after her.

I was twenty-one years old and I had no idea if I would actually become a mother, or what it might even mean if I did, but nonetheless, that day I told Julie I would carry her name forward. For years after that, it was something I thought about off-handedly. And when I became pregnant with Veronica, it wasn’t something I felt ready to do, even if I did have a girl. Even with someone growing inside of me, motherhood seemed too far away, too strange and inaccessible to comprehend. I knew nothing about having a child, or becoming a mother to bequeath a name in that way. I didn’t even tell Greg about my promise. But later, after Vera was born, I felt twinges of guilt that I hadn’t followed through on my promise, especially when I’d had a daughter after all.

And months into being a mother, I found myself thinking of Julie often. There are long blocks of time in which I recall sitting in the nursery, alone with my baby, late afternoon sun skimming across the hardwood floors of our Chicago apartment, when I closed my eyes and understood in some deep, deep way, how much Julie would have loved being a mother. Perhaps it was simply that, for the first time in my life, I was experiencing the kind of limitless love Julie seemed capable of giving, but I also knew that Julie would have relished having a child of her own to give that love to.

When I became pregnant for the second time, last fall, and when Greg and I were discussing names, I told him the story of Julie and my promise. I’d long known that I would want to use a version of Julie, likely Juliette, and Greg was immediately enchanted with the name. It was quickly settled as our only offering should it be a girl. Still, all throughout these last long months, I was so sure the baby inside of me would be a boy that I gave very little thought to the idea that if it was a girl, I would finally be making good on that whispered promise made so many years before.

Now it seems that it has all unfolded just the way it was meant to. That I would have two girls, one who would teach me those initial folds of bottomless love, and another who would honor someone capable of carrying them through an entire lifetime.

Julie once wrote to me that she thought often about my love for my mother, and confessed that if she could have a daughter, she would have wanted one like me, so fiercely adoring and mourning and steeped with honest grief and love — she said she wasn’t sure she’d ever felt that kind of love from someone before and that if she could, she would want it to be just like what she imagined I felt for my mother.

When I think about that sentiment it makes me weep. It’s all any of us want or need, isn’t it? Deep, unabating love?

And so my life wish for my new tiny daughter whose name is Juliette, is that she not only know this love, that she not only receive this love in her life, but that she is capable of giving it as freely as her namesake.

 

13 comments

12 Comments

  • Posted June 28, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    encroyable!

  • Erika Patrick Leonard
    Posted June 28, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    *Sigh* Thank you for trying to put into words what is nearly impossible to convey to people who didn’t know Julie. I have never encountered anyone else like her, and I know I never will.

    I’ll never forget the particularly fat envelope I received from her once, containing a long and lovely letter written entirely on Waffle House napkins. Even then, I was in awe of this — imagining her bent over a fake-wood veneer table, curls tumbling into her face, chain smoking and drinking a bottomless cup of coffee. Only Julie could get away with emptying an entire dispenser of napkins just to write a letter. And I’m sure the waitress didn’t even mind… bemused over the curious and beautiful creature curled up in her booth, and pleased with the generous tip that she certainly would have left.

    I think of her often now. Maybe because I’m now pregnant with my first child and thinking about names and legacies, about aspirations and hopes, about and futures and pasts. Maybe I’m just finally ready to go back to that place a little. I know it is partially because I just finished your tremendous book. I know she would be honored by her namesake, and somewhere she is smiling her quiet but radiant smile.

  • Katie
    Posted June 28, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    As soon as I heard Juliette’s name, I just knew it was for Julie. I imagine that it feels good saying Juliette’s name, almost like Julie can hear you each time you say it. I’ll never forget what she told me on that last visit to the hospital before she passed away, “We are all so lucky to have found eachother in this world.”

    Much love to you and your family!!

  • Stacy Geyer
    Posted June 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Claire – – – I remember you sharing stories about your friend Julie with me. What a lovely way to honor her. I love you very much, and I feel so happy to remember your friend Julie today (even though I never knew her). I’m certain she is with you in spirit.

  • antonia
    Posted June 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Julie was truly one of the most beautiful people I have ever met – she is still so alive in my mind, what a fitting tribute -

  • Posted June 28, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    The power of names. I too mourn the non-existence of a girl-baby who would have been named Lindsay Ellizabeth (even though of course I would not trade second-son Jeffrey Elliott for anything in the world) And if his older brother had been a girl, I pondered the name Kaia, but dismissed it as “too strange” to even float past my husband back in the day. Imagine my surprise when baby-girl granddaughter was born just over a year ago, and they named her Kaia! They had never heard my story — I’d all but forgotten it myself. It will not surprise me at all to learn in some far-distant future lifetime that there has been a Kaia somewhere in my past. I am really looking forward to your next book, Claire. These ancestral memories I think we carry with us are powerful.

    And your sweet Juliette? I feel sure she is being well-loved and watched over by Julie *and* your mom.

  • Ashley
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Love this. Thanks for sharing!

  • Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful story behind the name. Brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing!

  • Posted June 30, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful. Julie was a one of a kind. I know that Juliette will be proud to carry her name forward.

  • Carolyn
    Posted July 1, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    This is such a touching tribute and a beautiful way to keep the memory of your friend alive. The power of sisters is pretty awesome. Your girls are both very lucky.

    I was wondering, is Bidwell a family name? I had always thought it was your mother’s maiden name, but you mentioned that that was Chatterton.

  • Karen K
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful story and friendship. Julie was so blessed to have a friend like you. Thank you for sharing.

  • Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Carolyn, yes Bidwell is a family name — my great grandfather’s last name on my mother’s side. Veronica has my mother’s maiden name as her middle – Chatterton.

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