From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1946 –
By Marguerite J. Griffin
The little old lady was so small and slight that she hardly made a swell in the bed covers. I wondered what I would say to her, meeting her for the first time this way. Her granddaughter whom I was visiting would not let me leave until I had seen her.
“For she will not be with us long, you know. She is very old, almost ninety-five. She isn’t sick. Her body is just wearing out, becoming weaker and weaker. There isn’t much for her to do, just waiting like this, and she has always loved people. Seeing you will brighten her whole day.”
This suggestion did not make me happy. I dreaded going into her room. I had always thought old age at best was a tragic time of life. And now to meet a human being who was just waiting for her mechanism to stop functioning, who was waiting for death to walk in at her door – But there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t refuse if I might brighten one last moment. But how? what should I say to her?
I had worried needlessly. I realized that the moment I saw her bright brown eyes twinkle at me from the wrinkled parchment of her cheeks. They told me at once that within her frail body was a spirit very much alive and alert. Her hands upon the counterpane were almost as white as the cover, and transparent so that the blue veins were plainly visible. Her hair was white like soft wavy strands of silk, a little scanty, but gently circling her face. She patted the locks in place as her bright eyes looked up at me eagerly. A smile scattered the wrinkles into new places but filled her countenance with a warm flow.
“Sit down, my dear.” Her voice was a little thin and tremulous. “I’m so pleased to meet you. You look so full of life. I bet you have children to care for.”
“Yes, three of them. But sometimes I don’t feel so full of life.”
“They are wearisome, the little ones. but it’s the happiest time of your life. Still, I don’t know. All of life is good. I’ve seen a lot of it, too, my dear. And there’s nothing quite like grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and even great-great-grandchildren. Oh, I’m very old, you know. I’ve seen a lot of things, a lot of change.”
Her voice faded away as if her thoughts were traveling faster than she had the power of speech to convey them.
Then suddenly she started on another subject. “Jenny,” she said to her granddaughter, “show the lady my new dress.”
A new dress at her age, in her bed-ridden condition? It was fantastic. Was there vanity still left, after all these years, in this little gnarled creature?
Jenny brought it as if there were nothing unusual in the request. It was white silk crepe, dainty with lace.
I know astonishment was on my face, for the old lady said: “It’s my burial gown, you know. And I’ll be wearing it soon.”
The words were so gentle I couldn’t gasp, but my heart was beating fast. It was the strangest thing I had ever seen. A beautiful gown like a bride’s, and the little old lady positively anticipating the wearing of it.
“Show her the rest, Jenny. The slip and the stockings.”
“You seem surprised. Maybe you hadn’t thought the resurrection would be such a practical affair, but it will. There is no death, really, only a change, a separation. The spirit leaves the body until the morning of resurrection.”
I could see why she could be so calm with a philosophy like that. I could see why her granddaughter was so sweet, so patient in her attentions toward the old lady.
“It is a beautiful belief,” I said.
“Not a belief, my dear, but a truth.”
Her words were calm and quiet. She was not filled with the fire of a fanatic, but she was sure of her convictions. besides, I didn’t want to argue with her. I envied her peace of mind, her assurance.
“It’s a wonderful story, the story of man,” she went on. “It’s the story of change and progression, and we must be ready for each new thing. We lived before we came to this world, you know. Before this world was built. Our spirits were sons and daughters of God our eternal father, and we lived with him.”
There was a soft glow on her face. Her eyes were mellow almost as if the vision were before them, or, as if being so close to death, to returning from whence she came, she caught the gleam and could remember. Then she looked at me quickly, as if sensing my thoughts.
“It’s all in the Bible, you know. It’s not something I’ve made up. It’s there, but the world tries to explain it away. Man thinks he is so great and, being a son of God, he does have a noble heritage. But can he hope to understand the business of our Heavenly Father any more than a child can understand the works of his earthly father? A toddler cannot comprehend how his mother makes cookies, but he accepts them, none the less, and munches upon them happily. So should we eat of the Bread of Life. So should we accept it, without worrying about how it will be accomplished. God has spoken. That should be enough. Jenny, hand me my Bible and my glasses.”
What! Could this little shrunken creature still use her bright eyes to read? What a blessing when she loved the Book so much! You could tell the gentle way she handled its worn pages. You could tell she had spent a lifetime reading it, for she found her passages with ease.
“Listen to the words of the Lord to Job: ‘Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast understanding.’”
Her sharp eyes peered at me over the spectacles as if she were challenging me to answer.
“‘When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy,’ we were there and we were that glad over the earth the Lord was building for us.”
She closed her book and removed her glasses.
“But time is short, my dear. We are born, we live and grow, and just as we reach our prime, when our mental powers are at their best, our bodies wither, wane and die. It is as Paul says.”
And now she was quoting her scripture from memory.
If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen … and if Christ be not risen, then is your faith vain … if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept … for he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death … Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
I was speechless. I, who had come in to brighten an old lady’s moment, had found it was she who had so much to give.
She misinterpreted my silence. “But I’m sorry. I’ve tired you with my preaching. You must forgive me.”
“Oh, no. I must thank you very much.”
For even then I knew I would never forget her. What a triumph to grow old so gracefully, and even in her weakness be a source of strength to all who came her way!
When next I saw her, and it was not very long after, she lay in state, daintily gowned in the dress whose beauty was its purity of color, its simplicity of style. Every lock of her white hair was neatly in place. Her hands, unadorned save for a heavy gold wedding band, lay quiet and at rest. Death had softened her features as if it had been welcome. No bride ever looked more lovely. It was as if she slept ever so gently, just waiting for her master’s voice to bid her rise.