After my friend Jessica visited, I sent her an email thanking her for coming, and complimenting her on her hair. She's a deeper person than the girly girl who cares about her hair, but it just looked so cute I felt like it deserved an extra mention. Her response to my email encapsulated all of the great things about my friend--it was, as she is, full of honesty and mirth, grace and truth.
It was the fist time I'd seen her in a while, and it was the first time I've seen her since she started chemo for the breast cancer with which she was diagnosed in December. Since that diagnosis, she has undergone a double mastectomy and several chemo sessions. Oh, and she and her partner also welcome their first child, a girl, into this world.
It's been a busy couple of months for her, for them.
But still, when warm, wise Jessica walked into our house, she filled it up with love and laughter, big thoughts and kind words. Here is a woman who dares to live as true to her real nature as she can, and yet she covered up the obvious sign of her most recent struggle. In her response to my silly email, she said that she wore her wig so that my kids wouldn't freak out at her bald head.
I have three of them: ages 7, 5, and newly 3. Only the youngest was home to meet my friends. Jessica kindly thought it best to cover her chemo-bald head with her cute wig so as not to attract attention or induce questions that I was not ready to answer. It was a kind gesture, one that involved the sort of grace and wisdom you'd expect from a grandmother, not a new mom. But that's just Jessica. She's an old soul. She's mastered truths in her three-ish decades that take most of us decades more to learn. Or maybe she's just more comfortable in the uncomfortable questioning involved in a thoughtful life.
The mixing of breast cancer and kids, and what you show them and what you keep from them, is on my mind now, weeks later. I keep thinking about it. We parents try so hard to protect our kids; I am guilty of actively trying to create a bubble of Real within our expensive zip code. I want my kids to keep swinging, gardening, and exploring while the rest of their playmates seem to gravitate toward screens. I want to read alongside them, helping them learn lessons of human nature in the safety of my lap and their beds.
These lessons include: bad things happen to good people. Or, in Jessica's case, really difficult things happen to really wonderful friends.
Had Jessica not worn a wig, I would have had to answer my youngest son's curious questions about her hair, or lack thereof. He might have repeated back his morning to his big brother and big sister, and I'd have had to explain again what cancer is (my best friend's mother also battled breast cancer, so they know about it), how the treatments have bad side effects, and how yes, death is a possibility. That would have been a hard conversation, and Jessica saved me from having it.
I also see what bright, honest, laugh-filled Jessica represents, and my kids really missed out on the bigger lesson. Even bigger than cancer. And that's big. Jessica is facing head-on this horrible thing with her parter at her side, asking for help when she needs it, breathing deeply into her inevitable sad moments, and modeling that priceless, life-saving, super-difficult good attitude we parents want so badly for our children. And for us.
So Jessica, please come back. I want my other two kids to meet you (and Katie, too, and your little girl). You have so much to teach them. And all of us.