The Unsung Heroes: Why My Godmother Is The Most Inspirational Person In My Life

by Gigi Engle

According to many of my friends, they either don’t have a close relationship with their Godparents or they don’t even have them at all.

My extremely close relationship with my Godmother seems to be rare and I can understand why: because (and I say this with complete conviction) no one on earth can rival my Godmother.

When my mother, father, and Zaza (that’s what we call her) found out that my mother was pregnant with a girl, they all screamed for joy.

My mother had been desperate to have a daughter. But so was my Godmother, and unfortunately for her, she’d never get to have one — a bad marriage and two teenage boys put that dream to rest.

My mother made a solemn vow that day — she promised to share me with Zaza, and told her that while I was her daughter first, I would be the daughter my dear aunt never had the chance to have.

Zaza has been my second mother for my entire life. I’ve been lucky enough to be blessed with a wonderful mother, father and Zaza. I’m a girl who grew up with not two, but three parents.

Zaza always lived with us. When I was very little, we would have “magic baths,” where Zaza turned on the inexplicable red light in her bathroom, prepared a warm bath and sang torch songs.

Those are some of my favorite memories. We’d sing “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “When I Fall in Love.” Zaza had, and still has, the most beautiful voice in the entire world.

When we moved to Maui, Zaza of course came along. She fell in love with Michael — my surrogate Godfather — and he came along too.

As I grew older, we only grew closer. Zaza is a real no nonsense, get your sh*t together kind of woman. She’s a blonde now, but that natural redhead spirit was what made our home filled with life.

She was my greatest confidant. In high school, I was always up to no good. I could tell her anything and I knew she wouldn’t tell my mom.

When I lost my virginity, when my best friend Bumble and I stole her parents vodka, when I tried to steal the car — she knew and she gave me guidance, but she never betrayed my trust.

We had a special relationship that existed outside the realm of Aunt and Niece. She was a mother, a friend, a protector, a savior and a secret lockbox.

She and my mother ran the house in tandem. We got everything we needed for school, got all of our homework finished, and lived unbelievably wonderful lives.

We always had dinner late because that’s the way the Europeans did it, Zaza would say. My mother’s health has always been poor. She’s had Lupus and Arthritis since she was a teenager.

That’s why she and Zaza were so close. Zaza took care of my mom and took care of us like we were her own children, just as my mom had helped Zaza raise her two sons.

She never asked for thanks or praise, simply did everything she could to make sure everyone was happy and healthy with quiet grace.

When I was getting ready to leave for college in New York, my family moved back to Chicago. That was when things really changed. Zaza didn’t come with us this time. She stayed behind with her husband, Michael.

His health had weakened over the years and though Zaza rarely showed it, hers had as well. They decided to stay in Maui, where they had excellent health benefits, the warm sun, and the endless stretches of white sand beaches that I still miss to this day. But I miss something more, I miss my Zaza.

I think the power a Godmother can have on a young girl’s life is grossly underestimated. Sure, we say, “Will you be the Godmother?” when we have kids and they come to the Christening, but nothing rarely comes of it.

I think this shouldn’t be the case. If you’re going to be someone’s Godmother, and agree to what it entails — you better step up. If involved enough, a Godmother can be an essential guiding force in a woman’s life.

She has the power to shape a child like a second mother, to imbibe that child with her spirit, her beliefs and her life lessons. The responsibility that a Godmother truly has, by definition, is undervalued.

Consider the responsibility you are actually agreeing to: You’re agreeing to guide a child’s soul and nurture their spiritual wellbeing.

That’s some serious sh*t. And so many people take it for granted. I’m so lucky to have had Zaza, who spent every waking moment considering my happiness and my needs, completely putting her own behind mine.

Her level of selflessness is something I have never seen in another. She has made me the person I am today. Not to knock my parents, they are truly wonderful, but there is something special in the fabric of my relationship with Zaza.

Even though we live far apart, we still speak to each other often. Every time we talk, it’s for hours and hours.

She wants to know everything — who I’m dating, how all my friends are — she remembers their names and details about them even though she’s never met them. I definitely get busy sometimes and neglect her. She understands, I have school and work, but I feel guilty about it.

Zaza’s husband Michael died unexpectedly a few days ago. I woke up to a series of frantic texts and voicemails from my mother.

Zaza was married three times, but when she met Michael — well, I’d never seen her light up in quite that special way. They looked at each other like my parents looked at each other — amazed and almost a little shyly — a little like they were still in disbelief that they could ever be so lucky.

Michael had also been very important to me as well. He was the Godfather I never had and he loved me to the moon and back. I adored him because he was good to my Zaza and he was good to me.

And now, suddenly, he was gone. It’s astonishing to me how a person can be there one day and then be gone the next moment without any warning.

I wish I had gotten to say goodbye, gotten one more bear hug in, but most of all I am heartbroken for Zaza.

After I cried my heart out and Zaza cried her heart out, on the phone, six thousand miles away, long into the night, I fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.

When I woke up, something truly revolutionary dawned on me. As adults, we’re getting to a place where we don’t need to be comforted anymore and, more importantly, we’re in a place where we can comfort others, where we can provide emotional support.

I am a grown woman now. I don’t need to be taken care of anymore. Zaza made me strong enough that I have what it takes to really be there for her now, when she is not able to be strong for herself, to carry her through her grief and safely to shore.

She’s always been there for me, loving me, nurturing me, grooming me to become a fiercely independent, emotionally well-rounded woman. She needs me now. And, even though I’m far away, I’m there.

Photo via We Heart It