The Grand Canyon at sunrise is God’s private playground. The colors are unnameable. The light is bewitching. The vistas will break your heart.
My wife and I have visited the Big Ditch several times over the years and it never gets old. We visited after her father’s funeral. We visited on her 40th birthday. We visited after I got fired because my previous boss had short man’s syndrome.
Yes, I realize that Grand Canyon National Park has been commercialized to the point of being gaudy. Yes, this park is visited by 5.9 million annual tourists, all of whom are currently in the gift shop with screaming toddlers.
No, the restaurants aren’t anything special. In fact, the food sucks. And yes, sometimes you encounter annoying tourists, such as loud-talking guys from Arkansas who flick cigarette butts into the gorge and threaten to jump off the edge to impress their girlfriends. Which, let’s be honest, at this stage would be fine with the girlfriends.
Even so. The place has a strange spell over me.
When I was in fifth grade, my old man took me to the Canyon on a camping trip. One sunset he stood at the precipice and was so overawed by the unending beauty that he removed his hat and threw it like a Frisbee into the vast gully.
We watched the hat sail downward.
“Why’d you do that?” I asked.
He shook his head, but his face was bone solemn. “No reason.”
Beauty will do that to a man.
He died nearly a year later. I think about that hat every time we visit.
Our last vacation to the Canyon was a few years ago, my wife and I needed a getaway. We stayed in a rundown cabin, and ate cheap tourist food until our digestive tracts turned to stone. We went for many walks and watched lots of sunsets.
It had been a hard year. My wife had been spending her time caregiving for her mother. We had been living in her mother’s upstairs bedroom and our daily routines revolved around old-person stuff.
Caregiving is life-draining work. It will stripmine your body and leave you without reserves. This vacation was my wife’s time to lick her wounds and breathe free air.
One morning, I awoke to discover that my wife was already out for her daily walk. So I threw on my cleanest dirty shirt and went to the South Rim to catch the dawn in silence. The air was cold. I had the tourist area mostly to myself. The Canyon put on quite a show.
Next I decided to take a stroll along the rim trail. I walked beneath the perfumed canopies of alligator junipers and corkbark firs for about a mile until I heard a familiar voice coming from around the bend.
It was a loud, happy voice. A woman’s voice. The same Alabamian accent I have been married to for almost 20 years.
I moved in for a better look and hid myself behind a boulder like a B-movie Western villain.
My wife was apparently talking to someone, although I couldn’t imagine who. Maybe she’d made a new friend? Maybe she was all alone and going clinically insane? That’s how it starts, you know.
But when I peeked around the slab of granite I saw my wife was on a video call. She was holding her phone high over the Canyon so the caller on the other end could see the most beautiful panorama known to mankind.
“Can you see that, Mother?” said my wife. “Is it coming through alright?”
I felt hot tears come to my eyes when I realized what she was doing.
“It’s so big,” said my mother-in-law’s weakened voice.
“I wish you were here, Mother.”
“Did you already take your medicine?”
“Don’t forget your oxygen.”
“We miss you.”
My wife’s mother, the shut-in.
Throughout my wife’s recent years, she has been the one who changes her mother’s undergarments, who occasionally bathes her mother after accidents in bed. Sometimes I overhear my wife in the bathroom with her mother, using a hand sprayer to wash away the bad. And yet my wife remains cheerful. Always.
She is one of the most upright people I have ever known. She is a better human than I am. Unselfish to the core. And even here, on vacation, she was sharing.
I sat behind that rock and listened to her conversation, realizing what a remarkable person shares my last name. And when I heard her blow her nose loudly, I knew without looking that she was crying.
At sunset that evening, on our after-dinner walk, we remained silent for several minutes watching the purple shadows turn gray in the distance. We kissed a quick, dry, married-couple-style kiss, which means infinitely more than the other kinds.
I wanted to tell her what a pretty soul she is. I wanted to confess how much I loved her. But I didn’t. I simply couldn’t find the words. Instead I quietly removed my ball cap, I reared back, and I let it sail. Because as I said. Beauty will do that to a man.
Martha Owens - August 4, 2021 11:04 am
Beautiful tribute to Jamie. Prayers for both of you and Mother Mary.
Mik - August 4, 2021 11:05 am
Another beautiful story. Thank you.
Joan Moore - August 4, 2021 11:06 am
I’m glad you have each other. Praying.
Te - August 4, 2021 11:07 am
There are moments that transcend words, emotions, dreams and your soul. Sounds like you had one. What a blessing!
Bar - August 4, 2021 11:07 am
How beautifully you bring early morning tears … an appropriate beginning of the day, getting my soul aligned with what’s holy. Thank you.
Leigh Amiot - August 4, 2021 11:08 am
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”
This is what comes to mind after reading this column. You two are doing well.
Samantha - August 4, 2021 11:16 am
Precious, intimate moments – thank you for sharing.
Karen - August 4, 2021 11:17 am
Simple but powerful words of love and devotion. My prayers continue.
Suzi - August 4, 2021 11:17 am
You have a heart that sees, feels and speaks
Dean - August 4, 2021 11:24 am
jralleniii - August 4, 2021 11:33 am
Joining what I hope are hundred’s of others who are praying for you and your family. What an incredible picture of love you painted for us today.
MermaidGrammy - August 4, 2021 11:34 am
You are a lovely man
dianakinser55 - August 4, 2021 11:35 am
Tell her! Over and over again! Women need to know they are seen. She is exhausted and standing on a different precipice. I was there, too. Caring for my elderly mother with Alzheimer’s, waiting but dreading that final breath. I wish someone had seen me. I cherish your words every morning. My prayers are with the three of you.
Lucinda - August 4, 2021 12:02 pm
What a treasure to love and be loved like that. ❤️❤️❤️
david grant - August 4, 2021 12:06 pm
Awesome my friend. You have entered a writers zone. I surmise your thoughts are ‘inspired’ by beauty !!!
Margaret Cade - August 4, 2021 12:10 pm
You are such a precious soul. You show us beauty in the everyday things surrounding us. May you, Jamie, and Mother Mary feel God’s peace in you hearts today. Just imagine the beauty Mother Mary is going to behold when she steps into heaven. ❤️🙏
Joyce Anders - August 4, 2021 12:11 pm
Prayers for you and your wonderful wife during this time of transition for Mother Mary. May God bless you all.
Cheryl Andrews - August 4, 2021 12:17 pm
Your words are so beautiful! Thank you.
Janice Troyer - August 4, 2021 12:17 pm
Beautifully said Sean.
Paul McCutchen - August 4, 2021 12:18 pm
Been to the Canyon when I was in my early teenage years. It is always in the back of my mind. I need to go back but everything out west seems to be on fire.
Suellen - August 4, 2021 12:30 pm
You are a blessed man, Sean. Blessed in those you have around you and blessed in your ability to make us see the beauty in them too. You uplift me every day. Even on the sad days.
Nancy Crews - August 4, 2021 12:40 pm
Pamela Williams - August 4, 2021 12:47 pm
❤️ Thank you for sharing your life with us. You, your wife, your mother in law, are all a gift and blessing to so many. Much love to you all.
Erv Riley - August 4, 2021 1:01 pm
God bless you Sean for this and all your articles. I struggle to type this through my tears.
Bob E - August 4, 2021 1:02 pm
Awesome – such wonderful sentiments – and from a man nonetheless (you show this quality in most of your works).
There is obvious LOVE throughout your meaningful story.
God bless y’all.
Our sister and her husband are currently managing a ‘home hospice’ situation with wife caring for husband in a way similar to you and Jamie caring for Mother Mary. Deep love shines here as well.
May we all give the loving attention to others in their times of need.
May we all receive such care, attention and love at the end of our days.
Robin McDonald - August 4, 2021 1:04 pm
Caregiving. God’s work and the greatest honor. I got to help with my mom when she passed in March. I miss her so much!
Dee Jordan - August 4, 2021 1:09 pm
Writing from you soul is so enjoyable to read and that is your voice!
Johnnie E Blackburn - August 4, 2021 1:13 pm
Sean, don’t ever doubt that you aren’t doing life right. Thank you for showing others.
Jennifer Vorse - August 4, 2021 1:17 pm
Your writings are always so heartwarming. So beautifully written, making us feel that we are with you in every story. Thank you for sharing your life with us.
Bill Harris - August 4, 2021 1:28 pm
Thank you Sean. Your story brings me to tears.
Walter Buehler - August 4, 2021 1:30 pm
I thank you for the considerate descriptions of your mother-in-law’s travails and triumphs during her final days. We should all be fortunate enough to enjoy acts of kindness as we depart this life. Your devotion is a fine complement to the writings of Atul Gawande in Being Mortal.
Teresa Brooks - August 4, 2021 1:34 pm
Another beautiful story.
Sonya Tuttlr - August 4, 2021 1:54 pm
Marilu - August 4, 2021 2:06 pm
Love love y’all. Beautifully written.
Bill Henderson - August 4, 2021 2:21 pm
Wow! What a touching bit of writing. Thank you for sharing again. You two are class acts. What a blessing from God you both are to your wife’s mother.
Chasity Davis Ritter - August 4, 2021 2:23 pm
Sean, I know when you were young and over the years you e experienced your fair share Of pain and heartbreak…. but you were also given some truly wonderful blessings in that time. You were given Jamie and her parents.. and a heart that truly seas and eyes that listen not everyone is so lucky to have those qualities. I know you’ve lost part of those three things now and it’s caused some new pain each time but the other two allowed you to see and hear and feel the beauty of those moments too. To know people never really leave you they find a way to be present still weather it’s in a big ditch and an awesome paint job in the clouds or maybe the truly stunning colors of a flower garden outside your window. You’ll hear their voices in the wind and be able to still appreciate the wonder and richness and rightness from a dry quick married kiss. Sending so much love to you Jamie this week. You’ve been in my prayers every night. I think the Lord has been like yes yes ok I know I’ve heard now please go to sleep I hope the next time you visit that tourist over run hole in the ground you still see that beauty of it and the wonderful lady standing there with you… and take some extra hats!!
FAITH M QUALLS - August 4, 2021 2:27 pm
Sean, your beautiful words have rocked my soul to its core. My 57 year old daughter, Joy lost her final battle, of over 30 years, with the terrible, and mean disease of Type 2 Diabetes.
It has been 54 days today that our families have been struggling to navigate this earthly life…………without our precious JOY.
Everyone has told us that Joy’s name suited her to a ‘T’!
She loved her God and her Savior, Jesus with her whole heart. She loved her family and everyone else she met as well.
Her work on earth was done.
I have imagined that the angels that she described to me in vivid detail, who she saw at the foot of her hospital bed over 6 months ago, came to her again on that Sunday afternoon,.June 13, 2021, to another hospital bed to escort her spirit and soul to the loving arms of her Jesus.
Sing precious Joy!
Until we meet again.
I send my love to you,
August 4, 2021
Oh! Sean! I plan to visit the Grand
Canion on my 80th birthday, in Nov.
2022! I plan to sail my pretty,
flowered, straw hat too!
Les in OR - August 4, 2021 2:36 pm
These past few columns about your mother-in-law and your wife have been very moving. My husband and I moved in with my mom four years ago. She is now 88 and still very independent, but your columns are giving me a glimpse into our future. So, I thank you for sharing your heart with your readers. I loved the inclusion of the line, “So I threw on my cleanest dirty shirt,” which I recognize from a favorite song. Be well, Sean, and keep writing. To quote Joan Didion, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Linda Kerr - August 4, 2021 2:37 pm
Yes, beauty will do that to a man. …and the telling of it, will bring a tear to the cheek of everyone who hears it.
Christina - August 4, 2021 2:39 pm
Beauty upon beauty! Jamie is a gem
Lori Jahn - August 4, 2021 2:56 pm
Such beauty. Thanks for making me cry again
Jan - August 4, 2021 3:20 pm
Beauty in the story, beauty in the telling of the story … Thank you, Sean. Every morning, you never disappoint me.
Carol - August 4, 2021 3:33 pm
Love it! What a beautiful soul she is! Sean you are too!💓
Sarah - August 4, 2021 3:33 pm
I continue to pray for all of you and I thank you for reminding us to love others — in all the different callings life gives each of us.
Mary Guenther - August 4, 2021 3:41 pm
Please continue to write forever. Your stories bring me all kinds of emotions. Please give your wife a huge bear hug from me and tell her that I think she is an angel.
Stacey Wallace - August 4, 2021 4:21 pm
I am crying. Sean, thank you so much for writing about important, sweet, beautiful things. After all the ugliness of the last 17 months, we need to read about wonderful people like your wife. God bless her, you, and especially Mother Mary.
Barbara - August 4, 2021 4:31 pm
Thank you for sharing that beautiful soul who carries your last name. You always find a special way with words to express your deep love and appreciation for her and allowing us to know her, Mother Mary and you. It’s a blessing to us, who follow your daily treasures. Praying for y’all. ❤️🙏
SW - August 4, 2021 5:04 pm
Caregiving is hard work and is driven by love which transcends the exhaustion. I pray for caregivers every day (I have been where Jamie is now) and for the patients who feel so guilty for needing their help.
Jamie is truly blessed to have your support and help and Mary is so thankful Jamie has you. She knows she is leaving her precious daughter in good hands. My mother was only 67, I had two young children and my husband had moved to a new job several states away. I had no help except for the weekends he was home and took over so I could have a break. I would do it all again for my awesome Mom!
I pray for Mary (who I knew years ago) and you and Jamie every day. There is no higher honor than your loving care at this time. Sadly, too many do not get that loving last measure of love and gratitude. God bless all of you!
Tom Wallin - August 4, 2021 5:06 pm
I loved this story! I can see you throwing your hat and watching it sail downwards. God’s beauty for all to enjoy.
Judy Broussard - August 4, 2021 5:23 pm
You definitely have a good woman. Jamie Prayers for all of you 🙏🙏❤️
Linda Moon - August 4, 2021 6:04 pm
Beauty. Just because. No explanation needed. I’m glad you and your old man shared it at the Grand Canyon. And Jamie’s beauty was there at the Canyon for her mother when she lovingly shared photos and caretaking from her phone. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Jamie, and in those brief times spent with her, I knew how caring and funny and kind she is. Her caretaking of her mother in recent days has been amazing and beautiful. “Uma” loves her. Tell her I said that, please.
Ann - August 4, 2021 7:34 pm
More heart swells, Sean….you are amazing
Ann M. Oitt - August 4, 2021 8:30 pm
Your essays about your lovely Mother-in-law and your precious wife have been most touching. I can feel the love and the grief you two are sharing but, really, the hard stuff know only to you.
I look forward to each and one of your writings. Yes, you are a REAL writer!
Suzanne Hutcheson - August 4, 2021 8:52 pm
Absolutely beautiful–tears to my eyes time. Both of my parent died quickly so I never had the privilege of caring for them. I like to think I would have done it the same as your wife has and is doing.
Rebecca Souders - August 4, 2021 8:54 pm
You add to the beauty, Sean. Blessings to you and your family.
Dianne - August 4, 2021 9:30 pm
Thank you for sharing this experience with your readers. You and your Jamie are both beautiful people.
Bjean27 - August 4, 2021 11:43 pm
So touching really. You see with the eyes of your heart. Every time.
Skeeter Bullion - August 5, 2021 12:48 am
You just “get it” man. You get what life is all about. I’m in a tough place right now and reading your stuff is part of what gets me through the day. You’re like an old friend with a kind, encouraging word. God bless you
Amy Elliott - August 5, 2021 1:35 am
Sean, I have been thinking (and praying) alot about you and your sweet wife this week. Having been through the hospice process with my sister in law and then losing both of my parents ten months apart from each other, my heart breaks for you and Jamie. Being able to spend precious time with our loved ones at this very crucial and heartbreaking moment in their (and our) lives is the most beautiful gift from God. It’s hard, it hurts, but it’s so damn beautiful at the same time. Feel every moment with all of your being and be there for each other when it’s through, because after all, LOVE is all that matters.
David S Doom - August 5, 2021 2:25 am
You, like most of us men, married uphill.
Robert - August 5, 2021 2:33 am
Keep writing Sean, and thank you for every time you do. I’m losing my mom right now but can’t be there much because I’m still in the military. Reading your stories about your wife and mother-in-law help me process some of what my family is going through. And, by the way, I love the Grand Canyon…especially the North Rim. You’re right, beauty will do that to a man. Thanks for what you do friend.
Heidi - August 5, 2021 12:19 pm
Jamie is a true treasure, not just to you and her precious Mother but us as well. Thank you for sharing these very special moments.
Kit - August 5, 2021 2:09 pm
You are such a great help, Sean, and share great comfort. I don’t know that there is anything better one person can do for another than to make them want to be a better person themselves. You do that. A lot.
cabingranny - August 5, 2021 6:38 pm
So moved by this. Thank you!
jamesfsennett - August 5, 2021 7:59 pm
The best kept secret of the Grand Canyon is the North Rim. Not nearly as touristy, but with some astounding views, trails, vistas, etc. It’s a chore to get there, but well worth the effort. If you want to escape the tourist throngs of the South Rim, give this best kept secret a try.
Fred - August 6, 2021 8:24 pm
Bless you and your wife.
Life has so many simple blessings that we often don’t take the time to appreciate them.
Your stories help me do that.
Thank you for sharing your life with us.