The best way to deliver bad news is to be direct, so when Mother Mary answers the phone, I tell her right away: "Ma, are you sitting down? Because they canceled

Law & Order

."

She scoffs. "That's not funny."

"I'm not kidding."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not," I say. I know there are five stages of grief, and the first is denial, so I had fully expected her reaction. She watches Law & Order all day long. Any time I call her, I hear ba-bum in the background. Also, she has a crush on Jerry Orbach, and I don't have the heart to tell her he's been canceled, too.

"This can't be true," she says in disbelief. "Everybody loves Law & Order."

No, Everybody Loves Raymond, I think but don't say. "It was on for 20 years, so it lived a lot longer than most TV shows."

"Stop it. I know you're joking. You'll never fool me again."

She's referring to the one practical joke I played in my life, to wit: She loves the lottery, and during my broke days, she used to encourage me to buy a ticket. This would be your basic Scottoline plan for financial success, and who could blame her, because she used to win all the time, like $500 a pop. So once, when the Powerball got up to two million bucks, I called her and told her I'd bought a ticket but missed when they read the winning number.

You know where this is going.

I read her the winning number, slowly, digit by digit, and by the time I got to the fifth, I thought she was going to have a heart attack. This was 30 years ago, and she has never forgotten. Forgiving was never in her vocabulary in the first place. Mother Mary thinks forgiveness is for the weak.

I try again. "I swear, it's the truth. Think of it this way. You'll always have the reruns."

"It's not the same," she says, finally believing me. She sounds so sad, my heart goes out to her.

"I'm sorry, Ma."

"How can they do that? They're so stupid!" she said, angry, which I know is the second stage of grief, and probably the one where she feels most comfy.

"Well, I guess they know." I want to move onto other more important subjects, like her health. She's supposed to be on oxygen therapy at night, but Brother Frank told me she hadn't been cooperating. "Ma, how come you're not using your oxygen?"

"I don't want to."

"You have to. The doctor said." I was worried. The doctor found that her oxygen levels are too low, which surprises no one but her. We Scottolines have big noses, and she always says we get more oxygen than anybody in the room. Turns out one of us doesn't. "You need the oxygen, for your blood."

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you do."

"Oh. Maybe . . . I do," she says, pausing.

I don't understand. "What?"

"It's probably nothing, but the other night, I got a pain in my arm."

Oh, my God. "Ma, you did? Your upper arm? Your left arm?"

"How did you know?"

"That's a sign of a heart attack!"

She scoffs. "No, it's not."

"Yes, it is."

"Again with the jokes."

I feel like the girl who cried wolf. "Ma, it's not a joke!"

"You think I'm stupid? My heart's not in my arm."

"Ma, really . . . ." I stop when I hear her burst into laughter. "That's not funny."

She can't stop laughing. "Yes, it is, cookie."

Lisa Scottoline's new novel, "Think Twice"; a collection of her columns, "Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog"; and the paperback edition of "Look Again" are in stores now. Contact her at www.scottoline.com.