A VALENTINE FOR MOM
–thanks to Ann for sharing this uplifting story by Cathy Moore
My mom was a quiet, gentle soul and when Dad died unexpectedly, she was devastated but kept busy with her many friends and activities; however, four days after her sixty-sixth birthday (the week before Valentine’s Day), she had a stroke. An ambulance rushed her to the hospital, and the next month was tough, and although she survived, something inside her died. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with anger and sarcasm. Her number of visitors thinned, and gradually stopped altogether. She was left alone.
Since my husband and I were now empty nesters, we invited her to come live with us on our small farm, hoping the fresh air and casual atmosphere would help her adjust. We soon regretted the decision…she was moody and critical and had frequent outbursts of anger. She criticized everything, even the birthday gifts that she had received. Feeling frustrated, I desperately wanted to get her a Valentine that would brighten her spirits (and mine!). I browsed through everything at the local gift shop and was ready to give up when the store owner suddenly exclaimed. “I just read something that might help you. Let me go get the article.”
The article described a remarkable study done on stroke victims. It offered many ideas that we had tried without success, but there was quite a commentary on how attitudes often improved dramatically when stroke survivors were given the responsibility of caring for a dog.
I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon, filled out a questionnaire, and explained my reason for being there. The attendant showed me row after row of pens with dogs. As I neared the last pen, a sheltie in the far corner struggled to her feet, looked at me, and then lay back down. Years had etched her face and muzzle with shades of gray, her hip bones jutted out…she certainly was not a show dog, but there was something about the sadness in her eyes that held my attention.
The attendant noticed. “She’s a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and just sat at the door. That was three weeks ago. Her time is up tomorrow.”
As the words sank in, I turned to the guy in horror. “You mean you are going to kill her?”
“Ma’am,” he said gently, “We don’t have room for every unclaimed dog. It certainly not what we would choose to do, but dogs seem to be throw-away property, and we are left with the sad responsibility to do what has to be done.”
I looked at the sheltie again. “I’ll take her,” I said.
I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house, I honked the horn twice, and Mom came out onto the front porch. “I want you to meet your Valentine.”
Mom looked, then wrinkled her face in disgust.” If I had wanted a dog, I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Take it back. I don’t want it.”
Anger rose inside me, and as we glared at each other, the sheltie pulled free from my grasp, stumbled toward Mom, and sat down directly in front of her. Then slowly, hesitantly, she raised her paw. Mom’s face softened. The dog just sat there, staring at her with those sad eyes. Mom dropped to her knees, sobbing as she hugged the dog.
We can’t explain what happened, but in that moment, Mom’s peace of mind was restored, and it was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. She named her Lucy, and together they explored the community, making new friends. They were inseparable. Mom was once again a gentle, lovable person, and the sadness disappeared from Lucy’s eyes.
Then last year, late on the eve of Valentine’s Day, I was wakened to feel Lucy’s cold nose frantically pawing at our bed. I rushed to Mom’s room, where she lay, hands folded across her chest, face serene. Her spirit had left quietly sometime earlier in the night. The next day my grief deepened when I discovered that Lucy had pulled Mom’s blanket from her bed, made herself a nest, and curled up for a permanent sleep..
The morning of Mom’s funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks the way I feel, I thought, as we entered the sanctuary, surprised to see the church overflowing with the many friends Mom and Lucy had made through the years.. As the pastor paid tribute to both my mother and the dog who had changed her life, I noticed that sunlight was streaming through the window. The heaviness in my heart lifted, as I realized what a blessing the Valentine for Mom was to all of our lives.