I am built like my Grandma Cannon. I would always marvel when we laid our hands side by side. They looked like hands from the same person – hers because they were so young looking for her ninety-five years and mine because they looked so old. I have inherited her extreme short-waist, her high forehead, her short and stocky arms, her allergies, her little feet, her lack of height, her protruding belly, and her voracious love of cashews.
Her small body was a source of amusement for many people. My tall father would stand next to her with his arms stretched straight out over her head, like an eagle in full flight, and she would not even come up to his arm. She would sit as close to the television as she would to a dinner plate. Halloween night was the one night of the year she would let down her waist-long white hair from its coiled braids and wear a witch’s hat to the delight of all her grandchildren. When you kissed her cheek goodbye, her hearing aid would squeak out a resounding farewell.
Unfortunately, when she was in her early eighties, she was trapped in a deserted canyon with my grandfather in early Spring. He passed away from the cold and she had to have her leg amputated on one side and lost her toes on the other foot. This made her even shorter. While her body was recovering from the shock of those losses, much of my time with her was spent rubbing the stumps. Phantom pains tormented her. She would always want a distraction, so I would read to her because she had lost so much of her eyesight. Here was my dear Grandma – handicapped, blind, and deaf. To me, she had never been so beautiful.
On the night of her ninety-fifth birthday, I slept over. She had had a small cold for three days. She asked for me to rub her back that night. I marveled at how small it was. It was like a child’s. I kissed her and tucked her in. She liked the blankets to be tucked tightly behind her back. A couple of hours later she called out my name. I ran in and found her dying. I couldn’t wake her up, no matter what I did. I held her and sat her limp body up, but her breathing was sporadic and shallow. I didn’t want to let her go. I called my Aunt who lived two streets away and she was there instantly.
I have cared for many small babies and even worked for a summer in an adult care facility, but I have never felt so tender towards a body as my grandmother’s. I felt such reverence for this tiny tabernacle that had been through so much. It carried my sweet grandmother through almost a hundred years of difficult living. When a person dies, the body expels the waste. My aunt and I took off her clothes and washed her and put her in clean garments and a nightgown. I straightened her beautiful crown of hair. Grandma was not conscious through this entire process. My aunt made a phone call and I left to put the clothes in the washing machine. We were probably gone from the room not more than a couple of minutes and that is the moment my Grandma chose to leave. Immediately her body felt different. I am so grateful that the gospel teaches us about eternal lives and how our spirits live on, but I was equally grateful for the few minutes I had to touch and hold her body that was so much like my own. Arlene Ball’s essay “O My Sons” in the current Segullah issue is a poignant reminder of the fragility of life and of the deep love we have for our family members. As mothers, we feel especially connected to our children’s bodies as we helped create them. I was so touched by Arlene’s essay and how it reminded me of my last moments with my grandmother. It poignantly reminds us to take the time to ruffle our boy’s hair, rub our husband’s feet, put our arm around our parent, or squeeze our daughters tightly. Do any of you have any special moments with your loved ones that you would be willing to share?