Built like Grandma…

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?

About Melonie

(Poetry Board) When not out on errands, Melonie lives in a white house with a bearded husband, one bagpiper, one Spelling Bee champion, one Irish dancer, and one "Angry Birds" addict. They call her "Sweetheart" or "Mom." She is pleased with both titles. She received her M.Ed from the University of Utah and has taught school and writing classes. She has lived in El Salvador, Italy, Washington, and Germany, but her favorite place is a hidden spot in the Uintahs. She has had too many strange hobbies and interests over the years to list here, but she is currently into inventing recipes, making healing potions, and dreaming about a new front door. She blogs when the moon is full at www.meloniesmind.blogspot.com or when something funny happens to her, which she wishes was more often.

13 thoughts on “Built like Grandma…

  1. Melonie, that was really beautiful. What a tribute to your grandmother. I wish I had something half so beautiful to share.

  2. You are all so nice. I do not have any regrets with my Grandma, other than I wish I had had even more time to spend with her. She had lived an amazing life. I wish I could have talked more about her. Her father was the owner of Saltaire, so she had lots of fun stories associated with that. Teddy Roosevelt came to their house for dinner, they had one of the first cars in Utah, her Dad paid for J. Reuban Clark’s law school. She was also the granddaughter of Joseph F. Smith, so there are tons of stories of her time spent with him and his stories about his dad, Hyrum, and the crossing of the plains with his mother Mary Fielding. He held family home evenings for years at their house before he initiated the FHE program in the church. She was a sweetheart, but hated being called that. “I’m NOT SWEET!” she would say.
    However, I would really like to hear from others about their experiences with people, their own bodies, or what they learned from Arlene’s essay! Write up, girls! (and boys, if you are there).

  3. Very nice, Melonie.

    I loved Arlene’s essay, too.

    Random thoughts:

    When my mother-in-law was dying, she kept looking past us, trying to get up out of bed. Over and over, until the nurse sedated her. I think it was her spirit trying to leave her fragile body.

    The sweet woman who had styled her hair for years styled it for us. A great service.

    I love the sacredness of the body communicated by this post and Arlene’s essay.

  4. Oh my goodness, Melonie! You have to write a book about your grandmother. I mean, you HAVE to. It is imperative. And may I sign up for the first copy, hot off the press?

    I think you’ve intimidated us all with the beauty of your essay. The most sacred experiences I’ve had with the human body involve the births of my children and the death of my mother. I tried to capture the transcendence and holiness of sitting there with my mother when she died in my poem “Somewhere” (Fall 2005 issue of Segullah). I don’t really know how else to talk about it. I guess you’ll just have to track down the poem if you’re interested!:-)

    Anyway, thank you Melonie for sharing this deeply moving tribute.

  5. Melonie,

    Your beautiful description brought back a lot of memories. I nursed my mother when she was dying, and I’m so very grateful for having had the experience. It was sad to me how much she hated being a “burden,” because I loved being able to do it for her. I wasn’t there at the moment of death, though. This is beautiful.

  6. How very intimate! I am built so much like my mom and like to match my hand up to hers. A few months ago, her wrists were swollen and her hands and joints were starting to look all mangled and swollen. This brought me back to when I was an eigth grader and would sit her mom that was a shut in while my grandpa went out for the afternoon. Grandma always made me feel so confident. I knew which pills needed to be taken at what time and what required milk and crackers to coat the stomach. When I helped lift her from her chair through the years, she would always comment how strong I was. When Grandma was more able, baby sat for wealthy people. She was known for really paying attention to the children. Sitting in bed with her in what I did not know was her final months, she would share about her childhood and how proud her mom was when the preacher asked if anyone was ready to be baptized when she was around twelve. My grandma said she was and was baptized into this nondenomational Church. My mother told me that her future father-in-law let her know in no uncertain terms the importance of becoming Lutheran and she willingly complied later teaching Sunday School. Soon after becoming LDS, I would become a Sunbeam teacher and like to think of my continuing the tradition. Grandma also shared about my mom and uncle and about her resisting alchohol when tempted by peers. It was so natural to be around Grandma. She would sometimes say what severe pain she was in with her rheumotid arthritis. We would later learn that she also had luekemia. In pain, she was so kind. I can remember Grandma and her appearance so well. I asked my mom what age she thinks of her mom. She said that she doesn’t really think of what she looked like. Yes, she can conjure up an image. What she thinks of is not her appearance of auburn hair and a bigger bone structure than she and I or her wide smile that I would later see in a woman of a different race on my mission and remark how she looked like my Grandma. The woman in a good natured manner replied, “How did that happen?” I told her their smile was the same. They also had the same sweetness. That is something my mom also has. Grandma and pain was as I had known her. I couldn’t take my mom going down that road. I couldn’t loose even a part of my mom to that. I hate to see any signs of aging or even the slightest senior moments as her dad would have dementia. Also, I am not able to care for myself now. I am physically able. I am emotionally paralyzed. My mom helps me get dressed for work. Yes, I can get dressed by myself and had to when my scheduled changed briefly. Mornings found me crying and often less an article of clothing such as a sock as they fell on the ground or a shirt that met the same demise that was to be an extra layer for warmth. I can’t open the fridge or do dishes. I used to do dishes for grandma some, but I did clog her sink. I have clogged ours before and we had to have a bucket under both our upstairs and downstairs. But that’s not why I can’t now. Well, I could, I sometimes dream of it. I am just too afraid to harm others or contaminate them. And when I am not so afraid, I don’t take the leap. I helped mom out of the bath tub some when she needed help a few months back. I was glad to be of some service although I worried that I was contaminated. My shoulder started hurting and my dad said I was not allowed to do so nor did my mom want me to do so. Worthless is the feeling to have a mother in pain wait on you and feed you becase it is too hard to open the fridge. She took me to the basement three times in one day to help her do laundry. It was like walking miles with the concentration required to do each step. My heart is strong, I think. I can easily walk up and down stairs. However, the obstactles involved in this were so draining not to mention the things in my path that scare me. One day, I put in a load by myself though I was nervous passing certain things. On my road to independence by necessity. Then I got sick and did not seek out these small goals for a time. The basement was semi-cleared at a time, but not she says there is too much down there for me. It’s like I feel strong and am feeling that there is no reason I should be afraid of what I fear much of the time. But yet, I still have meltdowns. My mom’s arms were swollen again recently but it was thankfully short-lived. She is my best friend. We are built alike. She tells me that I write good poetry and she says that she has read a lot of poetry. I doubt that she has read what would constitute a lot of poetry. She has a high school degree and some college correspondence work in business classes and a nutrition class. When my dad worked nights, she read a short story anthology at one time as she was scared. She surprised me greatly once in saying a poem out of the blue. She had learned it in her school days and recited it. She is my mom/my friend/my caregiver/. I don’t think I can live without her. That she has been spared the severe pain for at least now and has so much of her youth back. Oh, you should see her face light up looking at pictures of her grandbabies.—-I really didn’t expect to write more than a few sentences but I really got going as you can see. It will be interesting to see if it will post. Feel free to edit for content if you like.

  7. insert thought. I dont’ think I said what my mom thinks of in regards to her mom. When she thinks of her mom, she does not think of what she looked like. She thinks of how it felt around to be around her mom and be in the presence of such kindness and gentleness.

  8. Barb,
    Thanks for your post. Its obvious that your family is very close and care so much for one another. Aren’t we blessed to have such wonderful women in our lives?
    I pray that you will be able to get over your paralyzing emotions and become the kind of woman that is able to care for your Mom and Dad as much as you have been cared for in your life. Thank you, again, for sharing.

  9. Melonie, thank you so much. I think that we can forge bonds for the eternities as we sacrifice for one another here. This is a unique Estate of our three Estates and this life has its greatest purposes when we minister to those who our own family. It know that I said a lot. Reading your post really was a springboard for so many emotions that I do often hold near and dear to my heart.

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