Gracious Gifts of Julia GraceBy Emma Pearson
February 28, 2024
Main photo by CB
22nd November 2023
Julia was named Julia because… well… a bit of a long story, really, but the shortened version is that I had wanted to name her either Allegra or Olivia (if she was to be a girl)… And after she was born, whether at 5 am, or into the next day and beyond, Mike evidently wouldn’t have either of those names.
Not only did he just feel “meh” about the names – it was a full body “No and more no!” in the way I only saw a few “Nos” in our almost 30 years together. It was a “not in a million gazillion years No!” I think I have written before about “why not Olivia – I mean, okay for not calling her Allegra – it does sound terrible in French – but really, why not Olivia?” Anyway – Mike won, and so we started back at the front of the name book, working from Abigail onwards, making it as far as “Julia” before we turned to look at one another and agreed, finally – “well, yes, why not? Julia”.
Bonus – as it is one of my auntie’s names – Auntie Julia. My mum’s youngest sister. Though this Julia had already died 10 years prior, aged only 46, of an epileptic fit. This Julia had had a very challenging life due to brain damage post-childhood vaccine. My granny May, Julia’s mum, was still alive, aged almost 95, when our Julia was born, so it was nice to make that connection with their names. Granny May met Julia a few times that first year of Julia’s life, the last year of Granny’s own. And “Grace” was added, not just because “Julia Grace” sounds so lovely, but also to honour Mike’s mum Grace – also long dead by then. I was only 26 when Grace died. So Julia’s birth and naming enabled some good honouring of dead people – out of full choice, and not because we felt obliged.
As (I figure) many parents do, we played around with our kids’ names. Some versions of their nick names are, I admit, absurd. I mean really, where did “Mopsy” or “Moppily” come from for Megan? I call her that to this day.
We sometimes called Julia, “Julia Discraceful Kemp” when she was being particularly naughty. I feel bad that we called her that – even once. I’d like to balance out the story, and say that we also called her “Julia Graceful Kemp” from time to time. But we didn’t. Julia Grace, yes, but not Julia Graceful. Just Julia Disgraceful Kemp.
Sometimes, not always.
When she really was being rather minxy.
I am so sorry, my love.
I want, again, to justify our name games of her. E.g., by adding that I had my own names twisted and made fun of – I remember being called “Emma Pascal Rascal” (my middle name is Pascale) – which I have so far survived. But Disgraceful feels more abusive than Rascal.
Anyway – remorse aside – I have been the grateful recipient of three separate, gracious gifts of Julia these past couple of weeks. Two came to me unbidden, and one I solicited, more or less directly.
The first gift was an audio file from a former pet sitter – S.I. – someone who had stayed in my home for a couple of months in late 2020, the first COVID year, when France went into its third? fourth? lock down. Julia had died some 15-18 months before S.I. came to live with me. S.I. wrote to me, out of the blue, earlier this month, with the recording of a dream she had had while staying with me. In the dream, S.I. said that she was lying in bed, and Julia was sitting at the end of the bed, wearing a long white dress, her long fair hair let down and loosely flowing. Evidently, Julia was saying that she was trying to get in touch with me by texting me on her phone. S.I. had become very scared during the dream and woke up screaming, trying to get away from Julia.
I think it was really courageous of S.I. to send me the dream. She also sent me video footage of her time living in our area, during which she visited Julia’s tree memorial. She had figured out that it was Julia’s – as I had never taken her there. The video was beautifully done, and more about S.I.’s life when staying in this area, but she wanted me to know that she had been past, seen and honoured Julia at her tree.
A week or so later, family friend Kiki, (24), who spends most of her time underwater in a submarine, wrote to me, short and sweet, that she had got on her unicycle, and that it had reminded her of Julia, who was brilliantly wild on a monocycle.
And finally, the graceful gift of Julia Grace that I actively solicited – if not in specific terms, at least in generic ones… My friend CB, who is the mum of one of Julia’s best besties, MG, was in Australia, where she had lived before descending in this area the month that Mike was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. The girls became firm friends, and the mums did too. I barely knew CB, but as I think back on those early weeks and months of our friendship, NOTHING fazed her – about me, about our situation, about Mike… She would roll up and scoop up Julia… take her out and about, skiing in the local mountains being a favourite pastime – as one might barely expect for people recently landed from the land down under.
Julia so wanted to visit Australia. She liked the idea of anywhere hot and tropical, and Australia was a firm fantasy destination. She planned on having a gap year after she finished school, and hoped to travel with another childhood friend. She most definitely had visions of life largely spent on a beach, permanent warmth and sunshine. But she never got there.
But CB was back in Australia. I took my chances. I left her a whatsapp audio asking if she would find some way of “evoking or commemorating Julia in Australia”. Enabling something of Julia to make it to Australia.
And she sent me the photo of Julia’s name in the sand.
It felt fitting.
Temporary art. Ephemeral.
There one moment. And gone, just a little while later.
Like Julia and her short life.
I am grateful for these gracious gifts of Julia Grace.
Thank you, girlfriends, for your courage. Thank you for the gifts.
I know it takes guts to let me know that you’ve got a dream or a memory or a story.
I know you wonder about sharing things – photos, videos, anecdotes.
Sometimes the stories are hard – hard now, hard back then. Sometimes they might be too lovely, and you don’t know if lovely is “allowed”. But it’s all allowed.
Everything is allowed, everything is wanted. All the stories – the good, the bad, and the ugly. The easy and the hard, the sweet and the bittersweet. All of them.
It’s all I have now. Stories and memories, videos and photos. My own stories and photos… most of which I know. And those of others, which I dearly want to know.
Which I want to appropriate, view, sense into.
Yes, it’s all hard. It’s all bittersweet. It’s all a complex mess.
And it is much needed and appreciated.