Got word recently that a relative had passed away. Cancer. She was 36. Married with three children.

No one, of course, escapes death. But 36?Laura would have had every right to be bitter, resentful, to shake her fist at the sky and exclaim, "Why me?"

Her body was riddled with hundreds of tumors. How are you supposed to deal with that?

Laura dealt with it by giving thanks.

Her mom, my cousin, was kind enough to pass along a talk Laura gave in church less than two months before she died.

She was too weak to stand but not too weak to talk. She was placed on a stool in front of the microphone.

She thanked God for the gift of time. Time is such a relative thing. Some are given 100 years, some 80, some 10, some 1 and some 36.

Laura got 2 1/2 more years than she was supposed to have when she received the frightening news in January 1995 that she had stage IV melanoma.

"When I was diagnosed, Scott was only 2, Jenn was only 4, and Rachel was 8. Now, three years since diagnosis, my kids have had three years of `mommy influence' that I consider a beautiful gift . . . Part of my gift of time has allowed us to go to two big family reunions, two wonderful far-flung vacations, and recently Mark and I took another great trip together."

She minimized her condition while reaching out to others. "You obviously can see my trial, but you might not have any idea of the blessings I have had. Now I am not the only one here with trials. That is laughable. Most of your problems are not as physically obvious as mine, but you have your adversity."

One who was undergoing a lot of adversity was a neighborhood boy and his family. Due to umbilical cord blockage, the boy was born with severe brain damage. He required constant care. Laura, a nurse, set up a system whereby she and others would help care for the boy to give his parents some relief. She helped care for him until the last months of her life. The 2-year-old child died two days after Laura's death.

Through it all, Laura retained her sense of humor. "Many of you know that about a month ago I basically had an `explosion' of more brain tumors. There is a period of about five days that I just don't remember, which is a bummer because it sounds like I did some funny and not-so-funny things. I would have enjoyed the entertainment."

She was very philosophical and accepting regarding what was about to occur. "Now, you need to know that of course I don't want to leave my kids, husband, family and friends, as well as this beautiful world. I love my life. I love this world. I love the people around me. I know what joy is. Thanks to my parents' teachings and reminders, I have enjoyed my life at every stage."

If she lived her life the way she faced death, it was quite a life.

Earth, I think, is a giant laboratory. There are some tests or experiments that are common to all of us and some that are specifically just for us. How we react to one test perhaps determines what the next test will be.

You have to have faith in the conductor of the experiments - God - because some seem to defy logic or explanation.

In 1979 I attended a funeral of friends who were killed in a traffic accident. Fred, his wife Judy and three of the four children in the van were killed in a head-on collision. They had just left church in Camarillo, Calif., and were traveling to Fred's parents' house in neighboring Ventura when the accident occurred. There was nothing they could do. The driver of the other vehicle, a two-ton truck, was having chest pains and reached for his medication. As he did so the truck drifted across the center line, smashing into the van. The truck driver was not injured in the accident.

One of the speakers at the funeral had these simple yet profound comments:

"The most difficult question to answer, especially when children are involved," he said, is, "Why now?"

"We cannot answer the question `why now?' " he said.

"Isn't it nice that God makes that decision for us? When would we be willing to lose the ones we love?"

He noted that Christ lost his life at 33.

Which is why it makes sense to make the most of the present.

Laura, despite her trials, understood that. "My mom taught me many important lessons and one of them was, `Don't wait to be happy until the next phase of your life. Find joy and happiness now.' "