A Daughter’s Reflection on Sickness, Intimacy, and her Godmother
When I was a little black girl I would secretly pray to God, the Father, to become sick. You see, when I was sick my non-domestic black mother would cuddle me and become the “ideal mother.” She would busy herself with medicinal concoctions and Vick’s rub. Yes, my mother thought and continues to think; Vick’s rub sees all things, cures all things. It is her personal on-call physician. Looking back, only when I was sick could my non-domesticated black mother let down her veneer of calm and her embodiment of “the eternal girl” to obsess about her daughter’s physical welfare.
And, because of this, I learned to play the role of the ailing downright contagious sick child. With one cough, I could produce bodily spasms. By holding my breath in 5 minute intervals, I could produce a mild fever. And, if these things did not work, I would simply say to my mother in my most sick, cough . . . cough . . . cough . . . woe is me, voice that I could not go to the school today because I felt quite ill . . . bubonic plague ill (I could say bubonic plague because we were studying it in history class). And, my mother would grant my request and tend to me as if I was her one and only love . . . her one and only obsession. When I was young, I thought being sick could bring my mother back to me. Make her stay. Keep her from wandering from man to man. But, it did not. Her presence was only momentary, there to wipe a nose, to rub a sore chest. Mind you, my mother did the best she could, but her sense of care and nurturing came fully alive when I was sick.
At the time, when I was young, I did not realize how my sickness or how my make believe sickness could leave my mother feeling completely helpless and frightened. It did not dawn on me that a beloved one’s sickness could cause great fear and pain. All that I knew, at the time, was that I could manipulate my mother’s sense of care by feigning sickness. But, I tell you this, as the old folks say, “Time has a way of changing some things.” For I now know what my mother felt during my sick days and my make believe sick days. She felt fear and infinite worry. She felt mortality. She felt helpless. She felt God.
And, now, sitting here waiting to hear about my godmother’s whom I lovingly refer to as, “the old woman of my heart,” surgery, I too feel helpless, worried, and mortal. Being older and having to be responsible for others, I now see sickness in a different light. I see it as something that can potentially take away the people I love. I see as something that will happen more frequently around me as I grow older. Honestly, my godmother’s sickness has left me feeling a palpable type of soul wrenching pain. A pain of what if . . . a pain of how long . . . a pain of not knowing. I cannot control or manipulate the ending of my Godmother’s sickness as I once controlled and manipulated my sicknesses because her sickness is real and, because I love her greatly.
Love has a way of showing how vulnerable we all are. When you love someone, as I love my godmother, and as my mother loves me, the thought of sickness sears your heart and lets you know, firsthand, how human-like we are. I do not have the power to end the disease. I do not have the power to end the pain. I do not have the power to stop the streaming tears. I do not have the power to make it all right. And therein lies why my mother could bend herself backwards to take care of her ailing and pretending to be ailing daughter, for she knew what sickness could mean. It could mean not being able to kiss the forehead of your beloved feeling the warmth of their skin pressed against your lips. It could mean an ending of intimacy in the ways we as people long for it.
No truer words ring true as the words, “I asked for intimacy . . .” and with that asking we are completely vulnerable when our beloved ones are sick. For intimacy is the one thing we all long for, but the one thing we struggle to give and to receive and so when we finally get it the thought of losing it because of a loved one’s sickness is a pang that is unbearable. Unbearable. When you ask for intimacy you can’t walk away when your loved ones are sick and you can’t heal them because you are not God . . . and so you do what you can. You pull out the Vick’s ointment and gently rub the chest and silently pray with each rub that God heals your daughter.
And, so I apologize to my mother for using my sickness and my pretend sickness to manipulate her sense of care. It was not right. Though I was thirsty for my mother’s attention (and in some ways rightly so), I now know, firsthand, how a love one’s sickness can totally cause you to babble unto yourself and unto God demands, pleas, diatribes, commands, whimpers, and exasperated sighs in pursuit of healing for your loved ones. I find myself inwardly saying, “She (i.e. godmother) has been my breath for many years and I will be her breath for many years to come. I vow this to you God. Please heal her.”
Yes, when I was a little girl I longed for sickness, but now I long for it to go away and never to visit my door or the doors of my loved ones ever again.
Yep . . . I asked for intimacy . . .