by Alan Sanderson
Some years ago I sat next to my grandma at a family gathering. I looked around at all of the people in the room — three generations of her descendants. “Isn’t it wonderful, Grandma?” I asked. “A whole room full of people, and they are all here because they love you!”
“You don’t know the half of it,” she said with a wry smile. I looked at her quizzically, and she explained, “Half of the people I have known and loved in my life have already passed on.”
Grandma has been wanting to graduate ever since Grandpa died on Christmas Day 2003. She’s been waiting a long time.
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
— Revelation 14:13
“How’s your health, Grandma?” I asked. We were sitting in her living room looking at a photo album.
“It’s excellent, confound it!” She said.
I smiled. “How old are you now?”
“In just a few weeks I will be 94.”
I was impressed. “You know, Grandma,” I said, then hesitated as if I were afraid of hurting her feelings. “… you’re pretty old.”
She laughed, because she knew I was teasing her. Grandma liked a little tease now and again.
“How much longer do you think you’ll be around?” I asked. She paused, looking at the floor as she pondered her answer. I detected some ambivalence in her manner. “Maybe I should ask someone who has an unbiased opinion on the subject,” I said.
She laughed and closed her eyes in that characteristic way of hers. “Yes, probably.”
Then she told me about an experience she had had a few days before. She woke up in the middle of the night with a bit of chest pain and some palpitations. She paused in her story and got a slightly guilty look on her face. “I must admit that I felt a terrible thrill to think that my time had finally come,” she said. Her eyes had a look of excitement, which faded to disappointment.
I smiled and decided to change the subject. “I’m moving back to Utah this year,” I said.
“You are? What wonderful news!” she said. “Come with me. I’ll give you a housewarming present.” We walked down the hall to the other room, where a dozen or so of her paintings were leaning against the wall. She told me to choose one and write my name on the back. All of them were landscape scenes from Southern Utah, and the one of Kolob Canyons caught my eye.
“I like this one,” I said.
“Then it’s yours.”
“Thank you, Grandma.”
“The spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.”
A Virtual Reunion
At age 98 she fell and broke her pelvis. I heard the news and figured that Grandma was finally getting her wish. Old ladies who fall and break a bone usually don’t last very long.
Except that she didn’t die. She rallied, and after a few days she was discharged from the hospital to a rehab facility. This is when I started to think that maybe my grandmother was indestructible.
It was my great privilege to spend a night with her at the rehab center. I arrived at dinner time and found her sitting alone at a small table, slowly eating her dinner. Alzheimer disease was slowing down her brain, and everything she did was slow. There wasn’t much to say, and she couldn’t talk and eat at the same time, so I sat in silence watching her.
After a few minutes my attention was drawn to the empty chairs at the table, and I imagined Grandpa sitting in the one across from me.
“Hello, Grandpa,” I thought. “It’s good to see you.”
We had a brief conversation in my mind, and he smiled and laughed his grunty laugh as we talked. There was love in his eyes for this woman that he had shared his life with, and that he had worked so hard to provide for, as we watched her struggle through her meal. I sensed his eagerness to reunite with her, but he was being very patient.
Next I imagined my aunt Steffanie sitting in the chair next to Grandpa. She smiled as we talked, and I felt that I knew her even though she died before I was born.
A minute later my uncle Stewart was sitting in the chair where Grandpa had been. “Hello, Stewart,” I thought. What a pleasure to see my uncle Stewart again!
All of this was happening in my mind, but every detail was there. Steffanie looked just like her pictures, and Stewart’s mannerisms were just how I remembered them. Soon I saw Grandma’s parents sitting across from me, and then a minute later Grandpa’s parents came to look in on their beloved daughter-in-law. It was a remarkable experience to imagine these conversations, and I felt a powerful feeling of love and closeness with all of these people.
Then Grandma turned to me suddenly and asked, “When you think back on the last few years, have you been doing things that are important?”
“I think so,” I answered. “Marisa and I have been teaching and taking care of our children. My work provides an important and needed service in my community. And I have been serving as the Sunday school president in Church.”
“Yes, that all sounds like very important work,” she said. “Those are all of the most important things.”
It was a wonderful time that I spent with Grandma, one that I will always remember. After dinner I played the guitar and sang for her out of the Children’s Songbook. She really enjoyed it, and even sang along in a few places. At the end of “Jesus Once Was a Little Child” she sang “Try, try, try” like President Eyring said his wife had done. After singing for probably an hour and a half, I knelt at her bedside and prayed with her before she went to sleep. Then I stayed up late writing all of this experience in my journal.
“But there were many who died with old age; and those who died in the faith of Christ are happy in him, as we must needs suppose.”
— Alma 46:41
Grandma died this week at the ripe old age of 99 years and 5 months. Even as I type these words, the blessed family reunion which I perceived last year at the dinner table is actually happening in the world of spirits. What a happy day this is for Grandma!
The day after she died I went running with my brother in the back country of Zion National Park. All around us for many miles were scenes that Grandma had painted. It felt right to be there on that day, like we were honoring her by enjoying the place she had loved.
Someday I will leave this beautiful world behind and pass to the other side. May that day be as sweet for me and for my descendants as this day is for Grandma and hers.
“And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death,
for it shall be sweet unto them.”
—Doctrine and Covenants 42:46