After the funeral of both her sons, Fariba's mental and physical health continues to deteriorate. Fariba eats less and less and spends even less time maintaining the household. Laila picks up the slack, cleaning and cooking more often than she once did. Sometimes when she finishes her chores, Laila lies next to her mother. During these visits, Fariba often tells stories of Ahmed and Noor and , about how bright the boys' futures would have been. Finally, Fariba admits that she knows she's been a bad mother to Laila. After a few days of worrying, Laila asks her mother if she plans to kill herself. Fariba says no; she wants to live to see the day the Soviets are kicked out of Afghanistan since it would mean so much to her sons. Laila realizes that she is not enough of a reason for her mother to want to keep living.
Hosseini uses metaphor in Chapter 20 to depict Laila's struggle to figure out the place she holds in her mother's life. Hearing her mother talk about Ahmed and Noor, Laila sees her mother as a museum honoring her sons and herself as passing through, as "the parchment on which Mammy meant to ink their legends." Through the use of this metaphor, Laila attempts to understand her relationship to her brothers and realizes that, at least in her mother's eyes, her value is not in what she is, but in her ability to listen and remember stories of Noor and Ahmed.
Laila uses another metaphor at the end of the chapter to add nuance to her growing understanding of her relationship to her mother. Laila views her footsteps on the beach of her mother's love constantly washed away by her mother's sorrow. Here, she is not only overshadowed by her brothers' deaths but also by the sorrow that accompanies them. While Fariba insists she will not commit suicide, it is not out of love for Laila, but devotion to her sons' memories. As this knowledge dawns on Laila, she is able to balance it with her father's support of her education and his acknowledgment of the potential still present in her life.