THE BLOG
05/06/2014 12:46 pm ET Updated Jul 06, 2014

How I Chose the Title 'Bubby'

Kathrin Ziegler via Getty Images

For those of you who have followed my misadventures with breast cancer, you probably know that I'm confronting some mighty terrible moments, including fear, rushed visits to emergency rooms, side effects, the specter of a bi-lateral mastectomy and more. Plus as a self-diagnosed sensitive person (mind you I'm not embracing the "hypersensitive person" label, I see lots of feelings, along with unfinished business, cropping up. This, along with being a psychotherapist used to being open to nuances of mixed feelings, leads to coming face-to-face with my dreads from way before and from right now. It has been beyond hard.

So moving right along... when I found out I would be a grandmother, I felt thrilled and yet I really wasn't; that was the truth. I didn't feel up to it, I felt it had nothing to do with me and I felt guilty that I felt that way. I'm sensitive, I've been a social worker wanting to save my family of origin (and how it gets so much less likely over time, have any of you noticed?). And I've been a psychotherapist and a patient all too often falling prey to self-absorbed therapists and sometimes, as a therapist, falling prey to my own too narrow a lens.

In my search for entertainment which won't throw me over what has felt like a tenuous edge of sanity, I happened on a Netflix offering of Scoop, a Woody Allen movie with Scarlett Johansen, Hugh Jackman (how bad is that?) and Woody Allen himself. OK, it's a bit creepy to the likes of me since it involves a ghost, a guy that died and a plot that offers some worrying about murder as well. But there is Mr. Allen (is he even old enough to be called Mr.?) saying in response to a question about his background, i.e. religion (mind you we are in upper crust and class England), "I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism." It's funny, on so many levels, perhaps because it's true, perhaps because it's common, because it has a Jewish rhythm of suddenly saying what the players won't recognize but the viewers will appreciate. And besides, anyone who has been too long in the territory of psychotherapy has probably found too much of a mixture of narcissism and arrogance, along with the illusion of thinking that was actually, yes a rearranging of prejudices. (A quote by William James).

We are all really potentially and often stuck there, assuming we are thinking and open while we just design our biases differently. But for me, this won't do... I'm still miserable and too pained, and have needed to trust enough in myself and a few chosen people -- this is not a Jewish thing -- to be my guides and friends and non-narcissistic companions as much as they could. Finding a therapist in Colorado has been a stretch, but comforting also because the fog of intellectual, narcissistic and arrogant fighting for the truth is missing at least, it seems, in the therapist I've taken a chance on.

So now, in the context or struggle, pain and as much as I can afford of honesty, I've been in contact with some friends from New York, those good enough and able enough to visit, and with my cousin in Denver whose membership with me in a cousins club from Russia -- OK now the Ukraine -- was a crucial part of our lives. And the Yiddish, and the humor and the food and the neurotic and persistent talk of cemeteries at meetings (did we both get our fear of death from there and then?). It was just recently Passover when we and our kids remembered the stories, the food and the Jewish jokes we always wrote into our own Haggadah, things they remember and seem to cherish in their way.

So if you build it maybe they will come, but something will happen, likely at least. And so in the midst of allowing myself to wander, and to look up names for grandmother, I came upon 'Bubby." I can say it and I can feel it, but was I just making believe I could use it in a meaningful way? And who would decide this, a rabbi? I don't think so. There was another admission here, that the word "Grandma" was good for my own mother, but I don't identify with it, and I don't feel a meaningful connection in repeating the ritual of naming. Sad, but true. I'm connected to bunches of good and not so good that I don't want to disown. But in truth, I also have the love of the Yiddish I know, of the humor of the deli guy at Russ and Daughters in New York who answered my silly question, "Are you Italian?" with "What are you, from the IRS?" and when I said, silly again, "No, but my husband is Italian," he responded with, "My condolences." It was funny and it was home, and perhaps the fact that "Bubby" rolls of my tongue and makes me smile, is enough.

I can say for now it feels right and warm, while granted it wouldn't be for everyone, especially the non-Jewish grandmothers out there. But it feels like an opening to something -- to a past without idealizing it or even substituting it for the very real movement and interactions that I am starting to feel I am living. I may not need to know all the reasons now... the parents and the baby have time as do I... Thanks God, says the agnostic Jew who is still attached to many of the trimmings -- which in fact feel like something of substance, something at least real, to me.

So for Mother's Day, I can feel connected, both to motherhood and grand-motherhood. After all, who's counting?