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.

Comments 5

  1. I don’t know if you were her last child, but seems like you were all a bit too young to know how to fully handle your emotions. A household of six children is not easy to keep harmonious! But I’m sure she understood the sadness…and it was certainly part of the love you all had for her. Her time with her children, telling and laughing, was as much for her as it was for her children. She knew it was not enough, but she still did it. That is what counts. Without that, today you would be sadder still.

  2. My 34 year old son recently passed and I am struggling with the grief. Your story reminds me of the importance for me to be a pillar for my other two children that need my support.

    1. It is a terrible heavy burden but you are right, you must carry it with grace and find some comfort in knowing it is just another way of expressing your love for the child youlost and gratitude for the two who need your example and support.

  3. It is natural to feel sad when your mother has deadly illness. There is no use to feel sorry when it’s too late. Your mother did feel loved and that is most important. Natural feelings are honest expressions. I am sure your mother did not judge you for feeling gloomy and think you where selfish. Your and your mother where both selfless. Love between the mother and the child is as pure as love can be. You two can not do wrong… There is beauty in everything… we live in the circle of life… fake cheerfulness is hardly pleasant. Heart felt feelings is all we need.
    I am sorry your mother died of cancer. It is truly sad. There was nothing wrong with your feelings. I believe it is important to allow ourselves and others to feel real sadness. It may as well be selfish to demand people to be cheerful around you when they are truly sad. We need to think “now and forward”. Forgiveness is the key to healing. When we do not allow ourselves to feel sadness we get angry. Key is to forgive that we feel sadness. Anger is far more damaging then sadness. Everyday we can practice forgiving. Fake cheerfulness can sound angry. Only when we feel cheerful in our hearts… will the magic work. Your mother loves you unconditionally, like every mother loves their child. It’s normal to feel regrets. We learn from mistakes. Mistake is mistake when we don’t learn from it. Thank You for sharing your heartfelt inspirational story. We can listen and learn.

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