Engritt Canon died almost a year ago after suffering from a series of illnesses for more than 10 years.
Her children, two of whom have special needs, watched their mother suffer almost daily through most of their lives.
Now, Canon’s mother, 52-year-old Merry White, who took care of her daughter, has full custody of her grandchildren. She is beginning a journey that she thought ended years ago when the last of her seven children left the house.
“It’s a whole new game for me, my children are grown,” White said sitting inside her Florida City living room while watching TV with her grandchildren, the Jean Baptiste kids, Jakryia, 12, Janya, 13, and Jaylin, 15.
Canon was 38 when she died.
“Engritt died Jan. 7 and we buried her on the 13th,” White said. “It’s been a rough year. We’ve really just been taking it one day at a time.”
White said her daughter began 2017 by losing two toes to a rare and debilitating skin disease called reactive perforating collagenosis. Three more toes were lost as the year progressed. She spent her days connected to a machine delivering oxygen to her wounded foot.
The condition required her to take a cocktail of medications that ended up shutting down her kidneys, relegating her to 4 1/2-hour dialysis sessions three times a week.
That summer, Canon suffered a stroke that caused bleeding from her brain. She had to stay in the hospital for four months. Soon after she was released, she suffered a smaller stroke, putting her back in the hospital for almost another two months.
Although 2017 was a particularly tough year for Canon, she dealt with health problems for most of her adult life. She was diabetic and had a heart condition that required her to undergo an aortic valve replacement when she was 26.
By last Christmas, she was back in the hospital. The children opened presents in her room at West Kendall’s Baptist Hospital.
Canon’s condition seemed to be improving, White said, and the family spent New Year’s Eve with her in the hospital. But that wasn’t the case.
“She was fine when we left that night. But the nurse called me about 4 o’clock in the morning and told me they had to rush her to ICU because her blood pressure had dropped,” White said. “By the time I got there, she was on life support. My son took me there because I couldn’t even drive. We all made it to the hospital, and we were there when she took her last breath. She never regained consciousness.”
Watching their mom suffer didn’t afford her children much time to just be kids, especially Jaylin, who helped his grandmother care for Canon.
“Jaylin was having a little trouble in school, but we got him some counseling,” White said. “He’s older, and he had helped with her. He used to help with his mom a lot. So, he understands better than these two,” White said motioning to Janya and Jakryia.
Jaylin is stoic in the face of his family’s loss, replying with a simple “yes” when his grandmother asks if he misses his mother.
His sisters are quick to smile and laugh as they hang out with their brother and grandmother, but White said not a day goes by when they don’t break down and cry, wishing their mother was still here.
“It’s been tough on them. Janya’s got a place picked out where she just goes and has her time,” White said. “I always say they can always talk to their mother. She’s in heaven. No matter how you feel, just talk to her.”
White has to be strong for her grandchildren, but she, too, has moments when she is struck with paralyzing grief.
“I had a box full of her stuff right here that I just got rid of,” she said. “Every time I got to the box, I started crying.
“It’s getting harder. It’s going to be the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas without her,” White said.
But White and her grandchildren are determined to keep moving.
“They’re getting adjusted to living here and not at their own house. But we always talk about her. We have all the pictures of her when they were babies, so we always talk about those times,” White said. “Whenever they want to go cry, they go over to the fireplace and look at them.”
A bright part of the year was when White drove the children to Orlando for not only their first visit to Walt Disney World, but also their first trip outside South Florida. It’s a vacation Engritt Canon always wanted for her children.
“I was able to honor her last wishes,” White said. “She truly wanted to do that for her kids. She had never taken them anywhere before.”
Now that White is raising young children again, she worries about having enough money to keep a roof over their heads. She owes back taxes on her house, and she has an array of her own health issues that prevent her from working.
To make matters worse, a tractor-trailer slammed into the back of an ambulance that ended up plowing into the back of her car on Florida’s Turnpike earlier this year. She and Jakryia were not hurt, but they were trapped in the car until a bystander was able to free them.
The car was declared a total loss, and that has made it a challenge to take the children to and from school and to their various medical appointments.
Asked what else would make life just a little easier, White said a computer in the house would help the kids with their schoolwork.
“Whatever people want to bless us with is fine by me,” White said. “They’re not picky kids. They don’t demand stuff. They’re grateful for whatever they get.”
HOW TO HELP
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. (The most requested items are often laptops and tablets for school, furniture, and accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.