I keep remembering odd things: the way she loved daffodils, her delight at the antics of our dog, jokes she told at the dinner table, her subtle brand of feminism, the look in her eyes when she talked about my future. I knew about college before I’d ever heard of high school; I was Mom’s second chance at the degree she never had.
Her parents pushed her too much, too hard, too fast, and she always wished she hadn’t let the pressure overwhelm her. She dropped out of college after one semester for marriage and a secretarial job. While she never regretted marrying my father, she always regretted giving up her dream of becoming an accountant. She was determined her eldest daughter would never miss an opportunity, and she missed out on so many herself so I could succeed.
She was the one person I could talk to about anything: politics, dating, parties, failed tests, or nail polish. She was right about so much, so often—much more than I gave her credit for at the time. We never did agree on clothes. She favored the J. Crew look, I kept trying for (and failing at) the neo-sixties style. One year we didn’t buy any new clothes at all in a battle of wills: she refused to buy anything that didn’t “fit me properly” and I refused to wear anything with an alligator on it.
She loved the holidays, Christmas most of all. One of the most intensely special times of my life was Christmas my sophomore year, when I played Tiny Tim in a local community theater production of “A Christmas Carol.” Mom delighted in my endless rehearsal stories and spent hours helping me work out ways of disguising my long hair. There’s a line in the show: “And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” Change the pronouns and that quote describes Mom perfectly.
I never imagined she wouldn’t be here now, micro-managing, debating the merits of such-and-such college with me, chasing the dog around the living room, ruining spaghetti, explaining “power colors,” and relishing exciting changes in IRS forms. I never thought cancer could strike so quickly, could kill someone so strong and determined in only a year.
She’s the one person I couldn’t imagine living without; now, since last January, I’ve had to. Suddenly, I have no one to talk to about meaningless little things, no one whose advice I trust implicitly to help me with decisions. When I come home from school, I come home to an empty house, haunted by memories of the year she spent here dying. I remember the disastrous Thanksgiving when she was nauseous and delusional, our wonderful last Christmas Eve together, the tangle of tubes in the family room, the needlepoint picture of Rainbow Row she labored over while stuck in bed, and the bags of M&Ms she always kept within reach.
What I feel cheated of is the future we’ll never have.
Writing about the death of a parent is one of the most difficult things an applicant could choose to do. This student took on the challenge and, as a result, produced a terrific essay. The piece is very positive at first, relating vivid, precise, intimate details of the student’s life with her mother. Though some of the details may seem mundane, they provide the reader with much insight into the girl, her mother, and her mother’s influence upon her.
The piece surprises the reader—just as the tragic event shocked the writer—at the end of the penultimate paragraph when the student states: “I never thought cancer could strike so quickly, could kill someone so strong and determined in only a year.” The major concern is that the essay becomes too negative in the conclusion, focusing on how the applicant feels “cheated” by the painful loss of her mother. However, the reader understands how incredibly difficult it must have been for this girl to write such an essay and is impressed by her maturity.