Thank you so much for this special moment to share with you my beautiful mother, Cindy Rae. This is such a vulnerable journey of unpacking and healing that is happening in real time, so I hope that you experience the plethora of genuine emotions and thoughts that are expressed.
To give a preface, my mama was a beautiful, big-hearted, and bright woman from the southern parts of Memphis. She was full of intelligence and athleticism, which landed her the opportunity to play for the Ohio State women’s basketball team at the age of 16. She then started falling a lot during practice, as well as struggled with balance. After a couple of years of doctor’s visits, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
I had the unique experience of growing up with a mama who was fully bed-written and disabled. There are plenty of experiences that reminded me that the world saw her differently than I saw her. To be transparent, I am still learning to unpack on how to navigate if I was truly traumatized by my mom, or if I was just seeing trauma through the projection of others—especially after her passing away back in 2007.
So, you’re probably wondering why this series is called, Mama, What’s Cookin’?
Well, I have one specific experience that I remember from childhood that best highlights the complexity and charm of my mama being my mama. This truly sets the tone for the experiences I will share with you on mama.
My daddy and I were cooking in the kitchen and making lots of soul food. At this time, we live with my maternal grandma and grandpa to help with taking care of my mama. My grandma was sitting with her and trying to have a conversation with her. My mama’s progression of MS was so far that she had very slurred and delayed speech. Therefore, it was sometimes difficult to understand what she was saying, and she didn’t often speak. Nonetheless, I always somehow knew her exact words.
So, my grandma screamed my name into the room, and looked quite frustrated. “Tell me what ‘she’ is trying to say.” So, I turned to her and said, “Mama, what’s up?” She slurred, “something smells really good—what’s cookin’?. I got excited and explained that daddy and I were cooking some greens, corned beef, and cornbread. She smiled wide and said that she couldn’t wait. I could tell that my grandma was slightly bothered that she could not understand her daughter’s words.
I then realized in that moment that this was my reality. It was difficult for others to understand my mama. She couldn’t be heard—literally and metaphorically. Many will struggle to share the bond that we have. She couldn’t be seen. No one will understand what it is like to be stuck in a bed all of the time, and people do not understand your simplest expressions—sometimes, not even your mother. And no one will understand how hard it is to see your mom as just a weak disabled person, when I always have seen a superwoman.
So, without further ado—Mama, What’s Cookin’?
One of my favorite memories that I got to share with my mama was washing her hair. It was such a treasurable experience because since she was bedridden, we had to wash her hair in a non-traditional way. I would beg my daddy to let me wash her beautiful hair. I would attempt to wash it every day, if I could.
My mama’s hair—soft, freeing, open ebony curls that bounced into the palms of my hands like rolling ocean waves. You could only imagine the eloquent serenity of tussling her coils.
To wash my mama’s hair, we had a blow-up water reserve that had a tube on the side to flush out the water. I loved how the scent of Sulfur 8 shampoo filled every follicle of my nose—a scent that will forever reside of me. We had a large, thick, pink comb that I would run through her detangled curls and she wouldn’t budge a muscle. How could something so simple be so joyous?
I think it was the opportunity to experience the beauty of my mama despite her condition. It was the opportunity that while seeing a body paralyzed in a motorized bed with back-cut shirts and tubes injected in multiple places, her crown was luxurious and full. It was the piece of her that I hoped that people could at least give proper compliment to while being so uncomfortable with the rest of her body. As a young child, it was the one thing that we could share about our bodies—we had the same, functioning hair. It was my connection; my moment to contribute to loving on my mama. In fact, one of the only times that I could truly experience intimacy with her. Nonetheless, it was a reminder that in the midst of her difficulties, there was still a moment of beauty and joy—simply in the crown of a mama’s hair.
“Dear Lord, we thank you for another day, and the blessings you bestowed upon us. Please watch over our family, friends, and people all around the world. Please help us to grow happy, healthy, and strong.”
The prayer we would say together each night, and I can never forget. Because of the severity of my mama’s MS, she had very slurred and delayed speech. Therefore, my daddy and I would sometimes have to feed her words during our nightly prayers. As a family, we prayed together every single night. Even when my mama was put in the nursing home, we still would visit every single day to say our prayers. We said the exact same words every single time, but it always sat so deeply in my heart.
Over the years, my mama was not able to fully finish the prayer because of her increasing symptoms. It was a difficult dissonance to experience—praying for good health over family and friends, while my mama decreasing in health. It was always quite a journey. Nonetheless, I am affirmed that those daily prayers allowed her to live 15 years beyond the doctor’s expectations and keeps my daddy and I healthy throughout this day.
I had to learn over time how valuable it was to include my mama in our prayers, even if she couldn’t talk. I also learned how necessary it was to pray for her—literally. I was her voice. I was her only child. I was the carrier of her spiritual needs and interceding for her health. I recognized that although we repeated these words each night, it was also a meditation upon our heart and spirit.
I am grateful that God used me to endure my mama through her illness. I am grateful that I could hold her beautiful hands each night and feed her words, even if it took her 30 minutes to complete just one sentence. I am grateful that her words—even with aid—continues to reap blessings in my life, today.
“All these things,
In the name of Jesus Christ,
"Yay, mama--you said it!"
Being a young girl living in the south came with a lot of environmental norms that I was not aware of when I lived in California. Living in the backwoods of North Carolina, having a functional mother in the house was essential and almost expected. Therefore, when I would share with my friends the condition of my mama, it was nearly impossible for them to imagine or understand. I remember one of my classmates stating,
“so basically, you don’t have a real mom.”
Cindy Rae was easily the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. While being in a far progression of her MS, she had a 10 lb baby girl—natural birth. I have never seen a day that she wasn’t shining her beautiful smile. I remember the times when she would use the little word-energy that she had to muster the words, “I love you” to me. She fought strongly through each day as the beautiful mother she was. She was the most powerful and the most real mother that could ever exist, in my eyes. To hear that others thought my mother wasn’t real was completely absurd.
But, somehow, it has seeped in.
I remember two specific times when I invited my friends over to hang out. After telling their mothers about my household, they reminded me that since my mama was disabled, they don’t need to be around that, and it is not a safe house with my daddy as the only functioning adult. I did not realize this until adulthood, but I internalized this as shame. I became ashamed of my mama. I was ashamed of my mama. They were right—I didn’t have a real mom.
I then hid all of the pictures of her post-diagnosis. I didn’t want people to come to my house until she was moved in the nursing home. I decreased talking to her. It just seemed easier to departmentalize these conflicting feelings for my mama by avoiding her existence. How can the most beautiful woman I know who brought me into the world at 10 pounds become invisible to me?
I had to convict myself on these thoughts to heal from my mama pains. I truly knew that she was a superhero. She was incredible. And, she was a very real mom. She taught me more about being a woman without speaking a word than most did throughout my life. She loved me more than everyone in the world. The lack of experience, fear, and discomfort of others somehow took precedent over my own truths that I genuinely experienced. It rooted so much, that I took blame for my mom’s passing. If I loved her more, then she would still be here.
I pray for those who wrestle with having a disabled parent and battling against the worldly views. I pray daily that the love I have for my mama pressed through to her heart a lot further than the vicarious insecurity of others I carried. I pray that my mama always knew that even when the world couldn’t see, she was the best, most beautiful and authentic mama.
If you knew my mama, you knew her smile. She had a beautiful, bright, and perfect smile. This wasn’t just a smile that brought joy upon your face. She had a magical way of smiling through her spirit. How could someone who is paralyzed in her bed for her late 20’s and early 30’s able to smile at every given moment? My mama taught me the very subtle but vast difference between happiness and joy.
I remember a moment when I sat down and told my mama about my first basketball game during middle school. My mama was also a hooper. She played for Ohio State until her illness overcame her. So, it felt as the highest honor to let her know how hard I played. I remember going on and on about the number of rebounds I had, and this one incredible fade-away shot that I swished in my defender’s face. Now, I had the expectancy that she would not say anything back, as I knew her speech at this point was non-existent. But, to my surprise, she gleamed a smile from ear to ear. Seeing all 32 of her teeth shining on my excitement ceased the incredible moment beyond my athletic abilities. This was the power of her smile. She made you feel capable. She made you feel possible. She made you feel valuable—just from her smile.
At my mama’s funeral, so many people attended from all walks of her life. She had old basketball coaches, pastors, college friends, old co-workers, and so many more. Somehow, someway, we all experienced my mama’s smile that day, even with tears pouring out of our eyes. As I fountained wails of pain, I felt her spirit drying each drop before they could even reach the bottom of my chin. I knew she wanted joy for us. She reminded me that it was safe to cry, because there would always be her sunshine to bring light in our reservoirs.
It never fails when I visit her grave, it is cloudy. Yet, as soon as I say my final goodbye, the sun always came out. It’s no coincidence that her name is Cindy Rae—
Whether in person, or in our skies, she is always shining her sunlight upon us.