The Last Word

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In a season during which we recognize gratitude, I was reminded of this beautiful painting by the inspired Latter-day Saint artist Caitlin Connolly. Driven by a curiosity of the feminine, she has painted so many lovely pieces that speak to my heart. The one shown here particularly whispers to my spirit.

When I first saw it, I imagined myself as the younger woman on the left. Next to me, so close she is almost a part of me, is my mother. And next to her, virtually flesh of her flesh, is her mother—my beloved grandmother.

Seeing it again now so I could share it here resurrects all the feelings I had the first time I saw it. Then and now, I was moved with gratitude for all the ways those two women—my mother and my grandmother—became part of me in such central ways.

BLOG WOMEN paMy grandfather served in World War I, and after he returned, he developed what was then called “shell shock.” We know it as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After a career on the railroad and at Columbia Steel’s pig iron plant at Ironton, his mind slipped away, succumbing to the terrors of war. He was hospitalized at the Utah State Mental Hospital for the last two decades of his life.

BLOG WOMENn grannyEvery Sunday afternoon, regardless of the weather, Granny packed a picnic and walked to the end of Center Street so she could have lunch with “Pa.” Most of the time he didn’t know her. No matter to Granny. Her weekly pilgrimage was one of the last ways she could express her love and devotion to the man with whom she had built her life, and she kept going until the frosty February morning when he cut the tethers binding him to mortality.

While her own two sons were fighting in World War II—one in the army, one in the navy—Granny spent countless hours knitting hundreds of pairs of woolen socks for the U.S. troops, wherever they were stationed. She taught me to make plum jam, showed me how to care for newborn kittens, taught me to quilt, and sat with me while we made dolls out of her hollyhocks.

BLOG WOMEN courtingWhen my father was diagnosed with cancer just seven years into their marriage, my mother became his devoted caregiver. Through the four years he fought to remain with her and us, she never wavered from doing everything she could to make him more comfortable. I don’t think she ever gave up hope. I can still see the pain in her eyes when she gathered me and Marty into a stifling hot living room that sweltering July afternoon to tell us that our Daddy wasn’t coming home from the hospital. Then she squared up her shoulders and faced the daunting task of raising two young children on her own.

By that September, she was a member of BYU’s faculty. She spent the next thirty-plus years working to support our little family. In addition to her teaching responsibilities at BYU, she did film work, television work, and stage work, including a summer at the Utah Shakespearean Festival. She was president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies and an officer in University Women. Amid it all, she never missed a play or concert or debate meet or baseball game we participated in. Hearing her characteristic little cough from the audience always calmed my heart and gave me the courage to do my part.

These two women taught me about love, devotion, diligence, hard work, creativity, faith, courage, responsibility, and the importance of showing up. I like to remember that, just as in the image created by Caitlin Connolly, I have some of what made them so wonderful. And that even though they are both gone from my sight, they are pressing against me even now, holding me up and preparing me to soar.

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