by Matthew, age 18
Matthew was 15 years old when his sister Melissa was diagnosed with cancer. He wrote the following essay to complete a college application requirement:
“Write page 357 of your autobiography”
June 10, 2000
I had been working on it for the last couple of months since she asked me to paint her a picture. It was hard. This wasn’t any normal painting. I had done plenty of normal paintings in the past, but this was different. This had to be the best I could do. Not only did I have one chance to get this right, I was running out of time.
My sister was dying and I had to do this before it was too late. I struggled everyday. It took me several weeks just to decide on the subject matter. I stretched one canvas, but decided it was all wrong. So I stretched another. I started painting a road leading from the foreground into the distance. Little by little, I added a fence, then a four-way road sign. My sister never mentioned it, but I could tell she was wondering how it was coming.
I had been working on it for weeks, yet I was not satisfied. Something was missing. All I could think about was this painting. The fact that my time was limited by her time was daunting. I got to the point where I would simply stare at the canvas devoid of an idea how to make it the painting it had to be. Finally, I added a group of pluming clouds to the background and added highlights given off by the sun setting in the distance and I was content.
Melissa and I were watching TV that night. We were both happy simply because the other was there. I told her I had finished her painting.
“You want me to bring it down?” I asked.
“Of course,” she replied.
With her walker, she was still somewhat mobile, even though she required a constant flow of oxygen through a nasal tube. However, taking a trip upstairs to my room would be a difficult, almost impossible task. So I hurried upstairs to get her painting. I worried whether she would like it or not. I knew she would say she did, but whether or not that would be the truth, I did not know.
I brought it down and from the look on her face, I’m pretty sure she loved it. Even though the advanced stage of her leukemia had taken hold, she was able to give me a hug. Giving her this painting was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Although it did not make sense logically or medically, I felt that when I gave her this painting, she was going to die. I was racing against the clock to get it done and I had finished, but with little time to spare.
Not able to fully care for herself, Melissa slept in my parent’s room. My stepfather temporarily relocated on the futon downstairs. The sad thing is that this was not a big deal seeing that it was only … temporary. My sister requested that her painting be hung on the wall across from the bed, which she now shared with my mother. It gave me great comfort knowing that she wanted it so close to her. Not long after I gave it to her, she was confined to her bed. Her disease had crippled her to the point that sitting up had become a challenge and required my mother’s help.
One night, my mother mused that my painting seemed to reflect my sister’s life.
“The picture reminds me of your life, honey. All the places you’ve gone and all the roads you’ve taken.”
Melissa wisely replied,
“But there’s only one road, and it’s not going in any of the sign’s directions. It represents to me the one road that I’ve always stayed on and was maybe meant to take.”
She continued by saying,
“And though the air is cold and it’s snowy outside, the clouds are bright with the sun. It makes me happy knowing that I am continuing on that road, to my next place.”
I did not intend this meaning, but knowing that she was able to derive a higher meaning from it made the painting that more fulfilling for me.
June 22, 2000
Shortly after, my sister became completely helpless. She was frequently incoherent from the amount of morphine required to keep her mildly comfortable. As I went to sleep one night, I heard her cry out in pain. It came as no surprise when I was awakened that night by my stepfather and was told she was gone.Share