The Mirror Effect

When the diabetes world finds you

Michelle Alswager BioBy Michelle Alswager

December 2013 — Most of the people who read my column or know my day-to-day life would say the word to use to explain my relationship to the diabetes world would be "immersed." It's true. Most of my Facebook friends are in one way or another somehow tied to the diabetes world. My group of friends where I live is somehow connected to the diabetes world, And well, let's face it, I work for an organization that hosts camps for those with type 1 diabetes. When I decide to do an Ironman, who do I ask to join me? Diabetes world people.

But on some days the diabetes world finds its way to me. And I'd like to tell you the story about a day it took me completely by surprise.

In October a friend of mine approached me and let me know that her company — shameless plug here for Amanti Art and Uniek — had a ton of gorgeous framed prints that they would like to donate to Riding on Insulin. The trick was finding a place that could hold all of the art and would bring people to purchase it. Now I'm a pretty resourceful girl and immediately thought to call my old employer to see if they would donate space at the upcoming Madison Women's Expo which I had run for the last five years. Without hesitation they provided a great space for the cause (see paragraph above on how everyone I know somehow eventually gets lured in to "my" diabetes world!).

So for the first time I showed up at the expo not as the director of the event, but, instead, as a vendor. As we sold art to the masses, every once in a while a person would ask me about the organization the money would go to, but for the most part these ladies were coming through to buy some new prints. We had been working all weekend and were starting to close up with ten minutes to spare. A woman and her 16-year-old daughter came in. As the young girl stood before me and spoke to my friend I could only stare. I'm not sure what the initial feeling was. It may have been astonishment. It may have been fear. And as she turned to look at me with a puzzled look of why I was staring, I found myself sobbing before the fourth word escaped my mouth, "I am so sorry… … but you look exactly like my son."

CassandraJesseIn the almost four years it has been since losing my 13-year-old son, Jesse, to type 1 diabetes never have I looked upon another person and pondered that they kind of looked like Jesse. But there stood in front of me a young woman (far right, black shirt) who carried his face, clothes he would wear, and a coolness that was identical to Jesse (at right, white shirt). Speechless and sobbing I pulled myself away for a moment while the girl looked helpless. I walked back to her and said, "Please let me explain. You do not look like a boy. My son, Jesse, died and you look how I would imagine he would look if he were alive today." She asked if I wanted her to leave, that she didn't want to make me sad. I said, "No, please continue to shop, you aren't making me sad exactly, it just took me by surprise." I tried to collect myself as she shopped (and hugged her mother). She came back and said, "I really want to hug you, would that be ok?" I didn't even give her time to put the artwork down before I grabbed her and imagined for a second that it was Jesse. I asked her polite questions about where she goes to school and where she lives. And before leaving she said, "May I ask what happened to him?" When I told her that type 1 diabetes took his life unexpectedly her mother teared up before she quietly said, "I've had diabetes my entire life. So does my mother. And her cousin." And at that moment we realized we were meant to be in each others lives.

Somehow we had managed to maneuver around each other at JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes events and many other diabetes events without ever running into each other or knowing each other. But on this day I believe Jesse brought her to me. And as we exchanged information and started to get to know one another, it is of no surprise that young Cassandra would like to learn to snowboard. How convenient that I work at a ski/snowboard camp. And as I write this column I am looking forward to seeing Cassandra and her mother volunteering at their very first Riding on Insulin camp in Wisconsin with me this weekend.

Jesse never missed a Riding on Insulin snowboard camp in Wisconsin with his best buddy, Sean Busby. And while I continue to feel his soul at each and every camp, and whenever Sean, Mollie, and I light a candle when we are all together in Montana, I most certainly feel that he had a very direct mission with this one. I'm glad this time the diabetes world found me.

Read more of Michelle Alswager's columns here


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: January 06, 2014

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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