It was an honest mistake. And over the last ten years, it's been a common occurrence.
"Hi, Melissa," the woman began. "I just want to introduce myself." And she launched into a conversation that eventually thanked us for creating the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund because it had recently helped someone she loved.
It happens all the time. At the grocery store. At sporting events. At the mall.
I never correct them, unless they ask, "Aren't you Melissa George?" to which I always answer, "Actually, I'm her mom, Amy."
The look on their faces says it all. They are embarrassed. They are worried they've upset me. They can't believe they just called me by my daughter's name, the daughter who passed away ten years ago.
If they only knew.
In reality, they paid me the greatest compliment in the world. Not because they called me Melissa, but because they said her name.
You have no idea what a gift that is to parents who have lost children.
My daughter was a living, breathing person. She had a body. She had a mind. She had a soul. She was my first born. She was named after me and my sister. She was the child that Chris and I had dreamed about and prayed for.
And she had a name. Melissa Suzanne George.
Grief is such a tricky thing. No one ever knows what to say. And sometimes we dance around the name of the person who died.
If I say it, will I upset the parents? Will I dredge up painful memories? Isn't it better to not say it at all?
No. Absolutely not.
I often receive phone calls and emails from friends of people who have lost children. They never know what to say and want to know if I can give them any insight.
I wish I had a road map of how to travel the road of grief and loss, but there isn't one. There is no instruction manual on how to reach out to a person who has lost a child. But there are three things I know in my heart.
First, don't feel compelled to say anything at all. Just hug them. Love them. Let them cry on your shoulder. And when you do speak, just tell them how sorry you are. And let them know you are there for them.
Never, ever tell them you know how they feel. Did you hold your child as they took their last breath and slipped from your arms into the arms of their Heavenly Father? If not, then you have no idea. Please don't act like you do.
Lastly, say their child's name. By doing so, you are acknowledging their child's existence. That name, the one they probably spent months choosing, belongs to their baby. The child they created, the child they miss with every fiber of their being. Use that name. Say it out loud.
I can't tell you what that means to a grieving parent. And not just in the days or months after the child's death, but even years later. When people speak my daughter's name, it heals my soul.
And what about those who accidentally call me Melissa? They often profusely apologize and as I assure them it's okay, I often tell them, "Please, don't be sorry. You've actually paid me the greatest compliment you could pay me." I am honored to be associated with her. She was the bravest, strongest person I ever knew.
Our words have power. Names mean something. For those who have lost children, that name carries a meaning that you can't even imagine. It's a lasting reminder of who their child was.
Don't be afraid to say it out loud.