Rosalyn D'Mello: The saving grace

Apr 29, 2016, 07:35 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello

A recent illness taught this columnist that grace is not just about giving care, but also accepting it from loved ones

As an adult, the only upside to being sick that I can imagine is the process of eventually getting better; when the body begins to rejuvenate itself, when the muscles start to feel stronger and the appetite resurges, and you feel once again in your bones the will to live. After almost a week of having to consume antibiotics that left me feeling exhausted and listless, I woke up a few mornings ago feeling well enough to go buy myself fruits.

I got home and peeled a plump safeda mango, crisscrossed its orange-yellow flesh, then sliced it from underneath so the diamond-shaped bits slipped into a bowl and over them I spooned a thick layer of creamy Greek yoghurt, and sprinkled chia seeds and chopped almonds. I was delighting not just in the rediscovery of my palette that had felt abused by the medication but also my newfound strength.

At the peak of my despair at feeling so sick and helpless, I finally reached out to my best friend. Representation pic/Thinkstock
At the peak of my despair at feeling so sick and helpless, I finally reached out to my best friend. Representation pic/Thinkstock

I learned so much about myself and about the business of living during this recent bout of sickness. As someone who usually performs the role of the nurturer, I'm terrible at being the one in need of nurturing. Caregiving is all about intuition, knowing how to pamper the invalid into feeling better, an instinct that comes through practice and observation. My role model has always been my mother.

Years spent as a nurse obviously imbued her with a healing touch. She knew exactly how to fuss over you, something all mothers do, I'm sure, but her experience as a professional caregiver gave her a clear edge. I like to believe I inherited her propensity for nurturing. I enjoy fussing over the people I love, especially when they're sick. But, like my mother, I'm terrible at playing the patient. I'm happy to ask for help when I'm able. But when I'm sick I just retreat into the dark abyss of self-pity.

I am fortunate enough to have wonderful friends who're concerned enough about me to hear my plea for help. Except, I find myself handicapped when it comes to making said plea. I prefer to put on a brave face and not reach out instead.

Some of this instinct comes from a deep-seated resistance towards allowing myself to be a victim, even of an ailment I didn't elect to be diagnosed with; perhaps the consequence of being a woman in a society that persists in treating our ilk as third-class citizens constantly in need of protection. I want to believe so fiercely in my facility for self-preservation I am unable to perceive the times when I really do need a hand in order to preserve my sanity and my health.

I have already prescribed myself a few remedies to rectify this behaviour, and I expect that next time around, I shall be better behaved as a patient. I shall embrace my sickness and ask my loved ones to care for me. For it is ultimately a question of grace; and grace is not just about the gesture of giving but also of being able to receive. There is something that thus connects you to the core of humanity when you are able to be receptive to the universe. To know and accept that you can never be an island and must cease all fruitless attempts at such threatening solitude is a lesson in grace.

To allow yourself to be cared for by not demanding it but suggesting the fact is also an acknowledgement of a healthy sense of self-worth. It's the same as believing you are deserving enough of a well-cooked meal even if there's no one to prepare it for you or share it with. I think it was Nigella Lawson who steered this related epiphany. You have to believe that you are important enough to feed yourself well.

It's about achieving a balance, I suppose; being co-dependent while simultaneously 'building alone'; a term proposed by my writer friend, Sharanya Manivannan, that refers to women like her and me who have chosen at 30 to adopt a non-conforming lifestyle that isn't hinged on marriage or going the family way. It is also about allowing ourselves to feel gratitude towards another, something we often withhold in our fierce desire to be self-serving and independent.

At the peak of my despair at feeling so sick and helpless, I finally reached out to my best friend. I was in tears. She was busy editing and couldn't, despite wanting to, come to my rescue. But she managed, through her wisdom, to lure me out of the vacuous black hole of self-pity I was seemingly entering. When our conversation ended, I forced myself out of bed and decided to fight the urge towards listlessness. Through her intervention, I began to heal myself.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to

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