mother always used to say that she was glad she
had three daughters and no sons. "I got three
works of art!", shed say proudly to
anyone who asked her if shed rather at least
one son. "Why should I want me any other?"
I always believed her. I dont 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.
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.
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 wasnt crying though.
My mother was the only one in the room who was
sitting there wearing the serene expression she
the matter?" I asked, worried.
mother looked up, realizing I had entered. "Liza,"
she answered calmly, "I have cancer."
froze. I was then too young to really quite understand
what cancer was, but I knew it was bad. Id
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.
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 doesnt always result in death.
Im going to have chemotherapy, and hopefully
that will save me."
I didnt feel better. "Chemotherapy
I repeated, recognizing the word. "Isnt
that what makes you lose your hair?"
mother nodded slowly. "Yes. Not always, but
mother had beautiful hair. Dark, smooth and thick.
It hung straight down her back like a cape. She
couldnt lose her hair.
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
was almost the last thing on my mind. All of the
family managed to get on living their lives.
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. Well be back around 5:45. Mom and
you know where Mom and Dad are?" I asked
Anne when I found her in her room.
shop," Anne answered. "Remember? Chemo?"
remembered vaguely. "You mean
will lose her hair?" Anne nodded.
came home wearing her wig. It was a nice wig.
It wasnt cheap or ugly, and it did resemble
her hair a little. But it just wasnt the
same. It didnt have that beauty and vibrancy
that my mothers hair had.
do you think?" she asked us.
could tell that both Anne and I were thinking
the same thing. I couldnt speak. I didnt
want to lie. But I didnt want to hurt her
feelings, either. Anne, who always knows how to
say the right things, smoothly commented, "Its
lovely, Mom. Almost as pretty as yours."
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.
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.
father was with her all the time except at night.
And sometimes he wouldnt 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 wed 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.
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.
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
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?"
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 Im dying
doesnt 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!"
I couldnt laugh. No. Not even for my mother,
I couldnt. Her words only made the tears
rise in my throat.
mother died the next day. I came home and knew
by my fathers expression. Anne cried. Dory
wailed. But I didnt. Nothing I could do
would speak the emotions I felt.
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 didnt.
then he asked people to come up and share their
thoughts of my mother. Many people stood and talked
of the good deeds shed done and the kind
words shed 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 wouldnt
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. Didnt 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?
Dory went up, holding my dads 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.
wanted to say something. I wanted to show them
how much I loved my mother and how I felt. But
I couldnt 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 couldnt.
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 couldnt. My sadness had overpowered
my loyalty to my mother.
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 Moms words in my head: Why be sad
with new strength, I laughed.
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
us with your comments.