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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #97

    An aged cousin had just died, and as we sat downstairs talking with the doctor, he said to my aunt, who had been taking care of the sick woman: "She took it hard!  She took it hard!"       They both frowned, and my aunt looked rather sick.  Then the doctor said, "Not much like your grandmother, do you remember?"      "Oh yes, I remember," said my aunt, her eyes misty, her lips smiling.      The doctor explained to me:  "Your grandmother was an old, old woman before she ever was really sick at all, except for rheumatism.  And then she had a stroke of paralysis that left her right side dead.  She lived four days that way -- the only days she'd spent in bed in years, since she was a young woman, I suppose.  Her mind wasn't very clear, she couldn't talk so that we could understand her, and I don't think she rightly knew anybody after her stroke.  I guess she went back, 'way back, for we saw from what she did that she thought she had a little baby with her.  I suppose she thought she was a young mother again, and that was why she was in bed.  We used to see her spread out her arm very gentle and slow, the only arm she could move, so's to make a hollow place for a little head, and then she'd lie there, so satisfied and peaceful, looking up at the ceiling with a smile in her eyes, as if she felt a little, warm, breathing creature there beside her.  And sometimes she'd half wake up and stretch out her hand and seem to stroke the baby's head or snuggle it up closer to her, and then she'd give a long sigh of comfort to find it there, and drop off to sleep again, smiling.  And she'd always remember, even in her sleep, to keep her arm curved around so there'd be room for the baby; and even in her sleep her face had that shining new-mother look -- that old wrinkled face, with that look on it!  I've seen lots of death-beds, but I never -- " he stopped for a moment.      "Why, at the very last -- do you remember?" -- he went on to my aunt.  "I thought she was asleep, but as I moved a chair she opened her eyes quickly, looked down as if to see whether I had awakened the baby, and put her finger to her lip to warn me to be quiet.  'Sh!' she whispered.       "That was the way she died."   Dorothy Canfield, "Almera Hawley Canfield" (1921), in a Harvest of Stories, (1956), pp, 74-75

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