Sacrifice. As a child, I hated that concept.

If I wanted something, my parents would encourage me to sacrifice and save for it, or encourage me to understand why I couldn't have it, even though everyone else had it.

If I needed something, they would sacrifice so I could have the ugly but expensive, supportive saddle shoes I hated but needed to wear, and not the pretty Mary Janes the other girls were wearing.

I remember really hating it when my mother bought a stunning leopard coat. It was a fake fur, but it was still expensive. She looked amazing in it, and we were excited to see her so thrilled. My mother was beautiful and she looked like a movie star as she twirled across the living room in that gorgeous coat.

After a day or two, guilt set in. The purchase was just too extravagant and there was sure to be something that my sister or I needed. The coat was packed up and returned to the store. My mother insisted she didn't need it, but I know she was sad. I think I was sadder. I wanted her to have that coat.

The next Christmas, my Tammy doll (I didn't have Barbie dolls Tammy was the wholesome, cheaper alternative) got a new fur coat, as well as a new wardrobe, which my mother made herself.

I loved it, but it reminded me of the sacrifices hers for taking back the coat, and mine for not having the dolls and store-bought clothes my friends had.

Sacrificing for my mother began when she was young. We loved hearing stories of her large Italian family. For Christmas each year my grandparents put chestnuts in their children's stockings. One Christmas, my grandmother couldn't afford them. My mother and my uncle, who were too young to be out alone, gathered whatever money they could find, sneaked out and went in search of chestnuts. They could not bear to have my grandmother disappointed, especially at Christmas.

Those stories helped me understand the good kind of sacrifice.

When I was 10, I wanted to buy my parents some fake fruit for their anniversary. It was sold at the grocery store where we did our weekly shopping, and my mother had been looking at it. For weeks I saved my milk money or I would do a chore to earn a little more. Each week I would buy a new piece of plastic fruit. I was disappointed when I had to borrow money from my dad to buy the last piece, but I was so excited giving my mother that fruit. I understood the joy of sacrifice.

Seven years later, when visiting Manhattan with my mother to look at schools, she pointed out an expensive lead crystal bowl she saw in a shop window, and said how pretty it would look with the plastic fruit (yes, she still had that fruit).

I saved my money, and with my parents thinking I was at my cashier's job at Grand Union, I took the bus to New York, bought the bowl, and got right back on the return bus to New Jersey. I got in trouble when my dad found out, but it was worth the sacrifice and the grounding.

When I became a mother, I really understood the sacrifice I learned from my parents, and I did the same. Whatever my children needed, we did our best to give them. And my parents, they never quit sacrificing for us or our children.

Nine weeks ago, my mother was ready to do it again.

After falling and breaking a hip, she knew it was her time.

She had been getting weaker the past couple years. She had made it through the holidays; and she and my dad celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Several of her prayers had recently been answered and she was content.

As she was slipping away from us, we begged her to keep fighting. She was tired, but she was willing for us; even if it essentially meant being on life support.

Too weak to speak, she scribbled on a scrap of paper and asked the doctor what would be best for her family, not for her, but what would be best for us.

With that, we realized we couldn't ask her to do any more it was our turn to sacrifice. She had already given us, over and over, what we wanted and what we needed.

It was time for us to say goodbye, and time for her to be rewarded for all her sacrifices.