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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Age 14



My mother always used to say that she was glad she had three daughters and no sons. "I got three works of art!", she’d say proudly to anyone who asked her if she’d rather at least one son. "Why should I want me any other?"

And I always believed her. I don’t think that my mom once ever told one lie or tall tale. I always felt a bit guilty any time I told lies or even stretched the truth, because I knew that my mother would have felt ashamed for me. I always wished I were as wonderful as my mother.

My father always said that my mother was one of the finest people alive. Even he said he wished he were more like my mother. I was truly convinced that Mom was the best person on planet earth.

In October of sixth grade, I came home form school to find Anne, my fifteen-year-old sister, and my dad crying. Dory, my five-year-old sister, was also crying, although I suspected she did not know why. My mother wasn’t crying though. My mother was the only one in the room who was sitting there wearing the serene expression she always wore.

"What’s the matter?" I asked, worried.

My mother looked up, realizing I had entered. "Liza," she answered calmly, "I have cancer."

I froze. I was then too young to really quite understand what cancer was, but I knew it was bad. I’d learned in school that most people die if they get cancer. And my mother, the best person on planet earth, had that deadly thing. Cancer.

The doctor, my mom later explained to me, had diagnosed her with small cell aggressive lymphoma. "Really," she told me, knowing how scared I was, "Doctor Peters says it doesn’t always result in death. I’m going to have chemotherapy, and hopefully that will save me."

But I didn’t feel better. "Chemotherapy…" I repeated, recognizing the word. "Isn’t that what makes you lose your hair?"

My mother nodded slowly. "Yes. Not always, but usually."

My mother had beautiful hair. Dark, smooth and thick. It hung straight down her back like a cape. She couldn’t lose her hair.

I thought that this would be the only thing I would think about. But I was wrong. After a little while, I found myself beginning to think about other things: school, friends, books…my mother was almost the last thing on my mind. All of the family managed to get on living their lives.

I was surprised to come home one day and find no one home. I found a note attached to the refrigerator. Gone out, I read. Please put soup on stove at 5:30. We’ll be back around 5:45. Mom and Dad.

"Do you know where Mom and Dad are?" I asked Anne when I found her in her room.

"Wig shop," Anne answered. "Remember? Chemo?"

I remembered vaguely. "You mean…she really will lose her hair?" Anne nodded.

Mom came home wearing her wig. It was a nice wig. It wasn’t cheap or ugly, and it did resemble her hair a little. But it just wasn’t the same. It didn’t have that beauty and vibrancy that my mother’s hair had.

"What do you think?" she asked us.

I could tell that both Anne and I were thinking the same thing. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t want to lie. But I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, either. Anne, who always knows how to say the right things, smoothly commented, "It’s lovely, Mom. Almost as pretty as yours."

The weeks passed by. October turned into November, and November into December. My mother went through chemo and did lose her hair. She wore her wig and we soon managed to get used to it.

But she became a different person. Her optimism soon faded. Her once smooth and pink skin became loose and fragile. Her smiles and cheery remarks became less and less frequent. The doctor finally placed her in the hospital.

My father was with her all the time except at night. And sometimes he wouldn’t come in until midnight. My sisters and I took detours to the hospital on the way home from school. Her frame had become so small that Anne and I could sit comfortably on each side of her on her bed. Dory would kneel at the foot of her bed and tickle her feet. That would always make her laugh. I loved hearing her so seldom laughter. I wished that I could bring such radiance to her face as Dory was able to. I was almost jealous that it was only my little sister that could bring out her light and not me. But as soon as we’d hurl our backpacks onto our shoulders and say goodbye, her face turned gray again and she was just a sickly being in a hospital bed again.

One day, my father came home later than usual. I could see by the yellow numbers on the clock that it was almost two. As always, he came in to check up on me. Even through the dark, I knew by his face. My mother was going to die.

I asked my dad if I could visit my mother alone the next day after school. He said yes, and so I did. He offered to give me a ride, but I walked anyway.

My mother was sitting up in her bed laughing when I entered her room. Clear, sincere laughs. "Mom!" I exclaimed. "What is this? Why are you laughing at a time like this?"

Mom opened her arms wide for a hug and I sat down beside her. "Oh, Liza!" She said. "Why not laugh? Why be sad? Just because I’m dying doesn’t mean no one should live their lives or be happy. Laugh! Laughter is wonderful! Have you ever noticed how uncontrollably gorgeous laughter is? It sets you free! It turns your mood around! Laughter is beautiful! Laugh!"

But I couldn’t laugh. No. Not even for my mother, I couldn’t. Her words only made the tears rise in my throat.

My mother died the next day. I came home and knew by my father’s expression. Anne cried. Dory wailed. But I didn’t. Nothing I could do would speak the emotions I felt.

My father gave the eulogy at her funeral. He spoke of what a wonderful wife and mother and person she was. He talked about how kind and smart and magnificent she was. I wanted him to say that he thought she might be the finest person on earth like he used to, but he didn’t.

And then he asked people to come up and share their thoughts of my mother. Many people stood and talked of the good deeds she’d done and the kind words she’d said. Anne went up and said again what a superb mother she was. "She was the kindest woman alive, and I am so glad she was my mother." I knew my mother would have been embarrassed by that comment. She wouldn’t have wanted Anne or anyone else to talk about how wonderful she was in the past. She would have wanted them to show how they missed her by carrying on her teachings. An old lady, whom I recognized as a neighbor, spoke of her good nature. Her voice broke as she ended with, "And it is a dreadful loss for us all. God always does seem to take the kindest ones first." I nearly keeled over. Didn’t these people ever get to know my mother? Couldn't they see that she would have wanted them to be happy and joyful so that they could tell these stories with pleasure?

Even Dory went up, holding my dad’s hand, and said, "I miss my mommy," and everyone thought she was cute and felt sorry for her. My father nudged me. I knew he wanted me to say something.

I wanted to say something. I wanted to show them how much I loved my mother and how I felt. But I couldn’t say the things the other people had said. It would be horrible to do that to my mom. I had to say something. But I just couldn’t.

Suddenly that day in at the hospital filled my memory. It was that memory that I wanted to keep of my mother forever. Her laughter was so beautiful. I remembered how she had begged me to laugh, too. And how I just couldn’t. My sadness had overpowered my loyalty to my mother.

But now all the people were staring at me. On weak legs, I wobbled up to the front of the room. My throat felt dry. I stared at all the saddened faces of relatives, friends and neighbors, some of whom I did not even know. I felt intimidated. I heard Mom’s words in my head: Why be sad…laughter is wonderful…laugh…laugh…laugh…

And with new strength, I laughed.


Laura Berlinksky-Schine is in the ninth grade. She attends the Lincoln school in Providence, Rhode Island. Writing and listening to music are two of her favorite activities.


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