Her Mother’s Face
I remember when I first met Jessica thirty years ago in Washington, D.C. I volunteered for the Big Sister program, mostly to alleviate my loneliness, not for any altruistic reasons. The minimum commitment was only one year.
The program coordinator said she had the perfect match. She told me Jessica was only five when her mother died of breast cancer two years ago. Both of Jessica’s grandmothers also died from breast cancer. “She has no female role model. Her Aunt Marsha lives in the area, but she has five children of her own,” the coordinator said.
During the introductory meeting the room vibrated with Jessica’s eager energy. Her eyes never left my face as her pudgy legs hammered back and forth as she was unable or unwilling to sit still. Her broad smile revealed a chasm between her two front teeth and her shoulder length hair looked like it lost the fight with the blow dryer. She had Coke-bottle thick glasses that threatened to slip off her nose while magnifying her eyes like a big-eyed aquarium fish.
Our first outing was a get-to-know-you lunch. Jessica immediately laid down the ground rules. “You know, as a Big Sister, you are here just for me, not my brother or my father.”
As one year turned into five, my love and bond with her knew no measure. We spent hours looking at her family photos, in particular of her mother while was still alive. I saw growing similarities of Jessica and her mother until the year her mother’s expression contracted from joy to fear, and then to desperation and the helplessness for what she could not control.
I helped Jessica with her seventh grade science project on breast cancer research. “I’m going to be a doctor and find a cure for breast cancer,” she announced.
One week after Jessica presented her science project, her Aunt Marsha died from breast cancer. The plucky little girl I had known folded in on herself. She wore her grief like a shawl pulled tightly around her shoulders.
After much nudging, I got her to come out with me to an art program at the park. It was fall and the leaves were turning from green to gold. Jessica looked up into the trees. “You know, my mother is in those trees. She is everywhere.”
“She is, Jessica. She is everywhere with you.”
Then she turned to me, “I even see my mother in your face.” I swallowed hard so as not to speak, and willed my eyes to stay dry. I cupped her face with my hands, looking deep into the old eyes of this 13 year-old. “And I see your mother in your face.”
The door opened to my examining room at Johns Hopkins Hospital and I was back in the present. A white coated Jessica walked in holding what I knew was my breast biopsy report. “What’s my diagnosis, doctor?” But I knew the answer. I could read her look. It was her mother’s face.
Causes Geri Spieler Supports
Gobal Tolerance, Village Harvest, harvesting produce for the homeless and hungry. American Lung Association, Big Brothers and Big Sisters,