I Saw Jesus in Mabel’s Smile

Mabel said only one word the day I met her. It was my first time volunteering at the nursing home. I had taken her on a wheelchair walk through the gardens and, as we stopped to admire the flowers and the birds, I asked Mabel questions and offered a few thoughts of my own. But she said nothing in return. Her only response was a tiny smile that emerged when I picked her a purple petunia.

After we finished our nature tour, we headed inside for 11:30 Mass at the chapel of this Catholic nursing home. Mabel re--mained perfectly still until the priest came to give her holy Communion. At that holy moment,  a clear “Amen” rang out of her otherwise silent mouth.

A few days later, I came back for another visit. As I was greeting the residents in the lounge, I noticed Mabel sitting by the window. I walked over and knelt at her side, then took her hand in mine. I looked into her eyes and saw tears trying to escape. Since I now knew she could speak, I asked her what was wrong. To my surprise, she answered.

Quietly, as the first tear was tracing its course down her wrinkled cheek, Mabel said, “I want to die. There’s nothing left anymore. It’s empty.” Now it was my turn to be silent.

I searched my heart for a response while my mind raced with suggestions. All of these seemed trite in the face of pain so deep. Soon enough, Mabel spoke again. “I wanted to be so brave,” she whispered.

This hit me hard. I didn’t have much information, but it was clear that Mabel was not a whiner with a low discomfort threshold. She was a woman of faith and integrity who had intended to face life’s challenges with courage and perseverance. But now she was suffering from the greatest of all trials: despair.

I reminded Mabel that Jesus also felt abandoned, and that we are never alone in our sorrows. But I knew that it wasn’t the time for a theological exposition on the Christian understanding of suffering. Instead of talking about Christianity, I needed to bring Christ to Mabel right then and there. I silently prayed that Jesus would touch her through my hands and that he would love her through my smile. I stayed next to her, holding her hand and drying her tears.

And when 11:30 came around, I was able to take Mabel to literally touch Jesus himself. I prayed for her, asking Jesus to fill Mabel’s heart with hope. I believe he answered that prayer. At the end of Mass, Mabel stretched out her arm, took my hand in hers, looked me right in the eye and, smiling, said, “God bless you.”

The transforming power of hope isn’t just for Mabel. Christ’s victory is now our own. By uniting ourselves to him, through prayer and the sacraments, we too have the power to defeat despair once and for all.

Gina Giambrone writes from

Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.