COMMENTARY: Cheerfulness: A Conscious Act of Kindness 761.5

My mother died of cancer when I was 18. The disease was detected a year earlier during her pregnancy with her sixth child. On the day she delivered, both breasts were removed.

During her illness, our household became increasingly gloomy. It’s hard to watch someone you love get sicker and sicker. But my mom was always a pleasure to be with, and she struggled to remain so despite her deteriorating condition. She’d joke, tell stories of better times, and laugh in an effort to cheer us up. But it never worked. We hung onto our despair as if we had to be visibly miserable to prove we loved her.

I didn’t appreciate then how difficult it must have been for her. In such situations, cheerfulness is neither natural nor easy. It requires a willful act of selfless courage. She was sick, but she wanted us to feel better.

In my lifetime I’ve known only a few people like my mom, people so strong and caring that, for our sakes as well as their own, they refuse to surrender to grief or fear. Rather than indulge themselves in self-pity or bask in the sympathy of others, they make a conscious choice to spread good cheer rather than gloom.

I now realize that our choice to spend our last months with my mom in a constant state of solemn sadness was unkind. She hated seeing us unhappy, and she felt guilty.

I wish we had been strong enough and wise enough to be more cheerful.

I wish we had spent every moment with her aggressively enjoying the time we had.

I wish we had thought more about her happiness than our unhappiness.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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