I had never seen a face like it. The 12 year old girl stood backed into the doorway. She didn’t want to be there, but she didn’t want to be anywhere. Her face was flushed nearly purple, not with rage…but with something else.
I was checking in kids who were coming to be a part of our monthly Sibling Support group. Recognizing that the siblings of kids who are in hospital can almost disappear when their brothers and sisters are ill, that all the attention goes to the sick one, I volunteer for the EAMF.org and we entertain the siblings, for only one hour, on the third Thursday of each month.
They start arriving with their parents and aunties at around 5:45pm. We register them, give them pens and stickers to make their own name tags…and sometimes you have to cajole them, encourage them. They either don’t want to leave their Mom, or they’re shy. They’re not joiners.
But this young girl, was something else. The pain on her face made me draw breath and I actually clutched my chest. The pain and anguish on that beautiful face was something I had never seen before. It’s natural to see someone’s face and try to translate their emotion, but this was unfathomable. It was shock…a deep deep sadness…but dry eyed. There were no tears, nor signs of recent tears, yet it was the face of someone who would sob buckets, if only she could.
"Go on…go in," her Mom urged smiling softly. "You’ll enjoy it, you’ll see."
Her name was added to the list, and her Mom wrote Esmerelda on her name tag and put it on her jacket.
One of the Volunteers, Angelika was called to take Esmerelda inside.
I lost sight of her then, focusing on the steady stream of kids from five and up who were coming in. Tonight was HipHop night. We would break them into groups, each one offering a different dance move that we would then perform for their parents in an hour’s time.
After 30 minutes when even the shyest kids would start to join in, having chosen their own animal peaked cap and some crazy ‘sun’ glasses, they would start to dance, or high five, or twirl. Some just stand there, not knowing what to do next, and a volunteer will gently encourage them to become a part of the group or just be with them.
From across the room, I could see she was sitting in chairs at the front of the space. She was with another little girl and a volunteer. They were talking gently, but her face was the same, unable to be comforted, sitting stiffly, withdrawn.
We all danced, and then 30 minutes later, packets of chips and water are handed out, and the kids all sit at a table with their new friends, all laughing and talking, and cramming the goodies into their smiling faces.
‘Husky hat’ she cried with joy, reaching out to the hat that another little girl from my group had replaced with a tiger hat instead! ‘Husky hat’ she said again, reaching out to me as I passed it to her. A peaked hat with ears and the soft face of the dog on it. The normal color had returned to her face. She was animated and ran back to her seat to show her new friend. They sat opening packets of Doritos and laughing. She looked like any little girl now. Gone was the tension, the pain…I still can’t describe it.
I went out to get the organizers. "You have to see this," I said and urged them into the room.
"You did this," I said.
In one hour, this organization had done what it set out to do, for a short period of time. To take these kids out of whatever situation they were in. To play, to laugh, to meet new friends.