Frans mother is dying of cancer but she has lived a more full and satisfying life that her daughter although it had been a sad one. Frans mother had, of course, been married and at one time been devoted wife, mother and homemaker. She had endured a difficult marriage since her husband was rigid, inflexible and unforgiving.(p. 6) She probably put up with such a nasty man for the sake of her daughter Fran. She did experience the joy of motherhood and the trials and tribulations of parenthood while simultaneously living with a stern and probably mean spouse.
In the story, we also get a sense that Lillian had many friends since she enjoyed, and was so expert at, letter writing although this skill had waned as she grew older and cancer had weakened her.
Frans mother also had a strong sense of motherhood. She was willing to give up her whole world (husband, home, friends) for the sake of her unwed pregnant daughter. As the author states in a reference to the story of the duke and duchess of windson when someone gives up the world for you, you become their world.(p. 15) In this sense Lillian gave up everything for Fran and so Fran become the whole world to Lillian. The reader wonders what mother would be willing to give up her whole way of life to protect her unwed pregnant child? One can also see the many small sacrifices Lillian has make for her daughter. For instance, the author states that when they first move to Florida, the mother would help her daughter learn to drive in the evenings when she (the mother) would rather enjoy a hot shower and a soft bed(p. 7) after a hard day of going from motel to motel until they could eventually find a permanent residence.
Lillian also seems to handle life difficulties and trials so much better than Fran. Her body is wrecked by cancer and chemotherapy yet she still maintains her dignity and positive outlook. The reader gets the sense that she would do anything for her daughters well being until the day she dies. There is a tender moment when Lillian asks Fran to close her eyes and imagine what life would be like when she (the mother) dies. The daughter replies peaceful but inwardly realizes she would be lonely with her mother gone from her life.
On the other hand, Fran, the daughter, seems to have lived a shallow, empty and unfulfilled life. Being an unwed mother at 16 and having to give up her baby daughter for immediate adoption seems to have shaped her life in a most tragic way. She never finished high school, and had to leave her home, father and friends at a very tender time in her life. The premature pregnancy came all too soon. All this happened at a time when an unwed teenager carrying a baby was a social disgrace. Her father, whom she dearly loved, literally turned his back on her as well as her mother. She never got the chance to grow and mature as a young woman nor to finish her education while simultaneously losing her father and breaking up her parents marriage. Probably because of her fathers rejection and abandonment of her, she became sour and bitter towards men and thus never married. Because of this, she never got a chance to experience true motherhood nor to have a family of her own. Her early unwanted teenage pregnancy seemed to affect the rest of her adult life in a negative way.
Frank fills up her empty life by oil painting which, at first, starts as a hobby but develops later into a income producing career. Her painting seems to allow her to live her empty life in the present moment and not to regret past tragedies nor to fear future unfulfilled dreams or aspirations. The author also mentions that Fran does not like to write letters and she has few friends. This seems to show that she ahs withdrawn into her own shell of single life with only her paintings and care of her dying mother to fill the void of her shallow life. The reader also gets the feeling that Fran bitterly regrets missing her chance to be a mother. Her pregnancy happened way too soon in her life.
Fran realizes when her mother dies she will then be truly alone – no husband, no child, no father and no mother. When she closed her eyes and imagined her mother gone, this shiver of loneliness rippled along her spine.(p. 14) When her biological daughter contacted her after 25 years with a picture of her and her child, Fran came to realize some tragic truths about her life. First, she became a 40 year old grandmother, yet she could not share her life with neither her daughter or grandchild. Second, the daughter, she had given up for adoption, has her own family yet she (Fran) who had given her daughter life had no life of her own. Third, her desire to have a child at the right time of her life would never be fulfilled. The contact of her biological daughter with the enclosed photo brought all these sad naked truths to light.
Frans teenage pregnancy had indeed make her life dead as her mother had exclaimed. Although her mother was dying and her own life took a tragic turn with Frans pregnancy, her life was still more fulfilled than Frans, or, as she said to her daughter, even half-dead Im more alive than you are.(p.16)