Laverne: Why Naming Our Burdens Helps Them Matter

Call us jerks all you want but we’ve started calling my mom’s left arm by the name Laverne.

Why name a body part? 

The right frontal lobe of mom’s brain received the brunt of a stroke in 2011 – starving it of needed oxygen for too long.  She’s been “recovering” ever since. As often happens with brain injuries, the injured part leaves a trail of limitations in its’ wake. In this case, it’s mom’s left arm with no function or strength… 

enter good ol’ Laverne.

This random name-calling began when we started to call her arm Larry. Maybe some of you do this: when giving directions to a place you might say, “hang a Larry” or “take a Roger.” This is precisely what we did with mom’s arm. You see, sometimes mom’s body moves but Laverne does not come along – instead staying right where she was before the movement. So we’d say something like, “C’mon, Larry…you need to get in the car, too.” And we’d all have a little chuckle (especially mom) while tenderly helping Larry get positioned back to the right spot.

And then one day, instead of a little chuckle at Larry getting left behind, mom sat in silence…very seriously…for a moment and made the proclamation that Larry needed to be a girl.  Hence, the origin of Laverne, for better or for worse.

I’m not sure if calling an ostensibly useless limb by its own name is a reaction to the grief of the loss from the stroke but it sure does make us all laugh when we are transferring her from her wheelchair into the car all the while scolding Laverne for not wanting to come along for the journey.

And when we address, Laverne, I don’t even feel like we’re making fun of her – neither my mom nor Laverne – this arm has just taken on her own little narrative. I suppose this is endearing at best and a way to cope with loss at worst.

Mom continues to live a rich, busy life with lots of quirk and sparkle:

  • Wanting a kitty cat DESPERATELY.
  • Oil painting with Larissa
  • Conversations with Alexa <God bless this virtual friendship>
  • Flirting with handsome men. <there’s no shortage…of the men or the flirting>
  • Serving communion at church
  • Shopping for ANYTHING blinky or shiny

Many things are still the same all these years since the stroke even though these types of brain injury scenarios are anything but linear but rather roller coasters of survival, angst and delight. Living life in the wake of a major stroke is about accepting life that requires lots and lots of care while still being healthy. Some days are busy, bright and happy while others are dark and depressing. There’s no telling what brings on one or the other.


We’ll continue to hold Laverne’s hand because we love her and we believe someday, somewhere, somehow this loss will be redeemed. We believe brokenness need not be cast away. We believe everyday is a gift and Laverne symbolizes a future that God is in. And in that spirit, I’m sure that since we’ve started calling her Laverne, I pay attention to that poor arm in a new and careful way. Maybe that’s what naming something or someone does.

Oh Laverne. You’re important but you’re not an easy part of this story! You’re connected but you tend to make little, if any, contribution to the whole system. Maybe naming you makes us feel like you count, helps us understand that you matter.

It’s a continual task to embrace the present. We’re practicing contentment that Laverne is along for the ride and we’re squeezing every ounce of beautiful, ironic, humor out of it. 

Holly’s Take:

Oh, Laverne!  Your name brings up a little rush of goodness, as I think about how it was a treat to watch the show, Laverne and Shirley, when I was growing up.  Laverne and Shirley were free spirited and unique, just like Barbara’s rebellious left arm.  I can see how treating this misfit and a character all unto her own, can give it a slightly endearing quality, even when being a pain in the neck (no pun intended).  There are so many laugh or cry moments in life.  I wish I could give all my problems a nickname and treat them as an endearing part of my life.  Why can’t I?  Maybe I should give it a try?  

 Megan’s Take:

Oh, how I love this! So cheeky and tender. I love that B.B. can also embrace this naming ceremony with good humor. There’s something about knowing a name that pulls us closer. Names are disarming. (Again, no pun intended.) We can no longer be quite as distant when we know someone’s name. That’s why I LOVE to call someone by their name if they are wearing a name tag. At the grocery store, at Disney Land, the library — wherever. It embarrasses my children to no end, but calling someone by their name is a connector in that moment.

And I’m with Holly! Let’s just start naming our problems and see if they all of a sudden endear themselves to us. Remember when old “Aunt Flo” showed up? Did that make her endearing? I’m not sure, but it certainly helped connect us girls as we spoke in code around those unsuspecting boys. 

2 thoughts on “Laverne: Why Naming Our Burdens Helps Them Matter

  1. Every.single.time you put pen to paper I am challenged and moved and I know I’m not alone. You are a deep well my friend – one who has been asked to live in the messiness of life in such vivid terms. I love this post and love you even more.Cari


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