26. The Gift

26. The Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

The Gift

Even hundredfold grief is divisible by love.

~Terri Guillemets

My son was dead. Danny was alive one moment and then in one horribly cruel, unforgiving second, he was killed by a drunk driver. My life was changed forever.

My daughter Elizabeth, also in the wreck, was hospitalized with a fractured vertebra. She and I would spend a long time drifting in the void known as grief.

With Danny’s funeral fresh on our souls, I brought my daughter home. Elizabeth was shattered mentally and physically. I struggled to console my daughter. She struggled with the pain of her loss and guilt of the survivor. She could no longer function and repeatedly skipped school. She couldn’t sleep and barely ate. Her depression was too extreme for either of us to manage.

I found the best treatment center in our state for grief-based depression. I didn’t want to lose Elizabeth too.

One evening on the way home from my weekly visit with Elizabeth I noticed four horses in a field. On impulse, I stopped at the farmhouse next to the field. An older couple came out of the house. As I stepped from the car I asked, “Do you have a horse for sale?”

The man said, “Well, we hadn’t thought of selling any of them.”

“Please, I really need to buy a horse.”

The woman’s face softened. She beckoned toward the house. “Won’t you come in?”

I followed them inside. Most of our conversation is a blur. I remember telling them again that I needed to buy a horse . . . then suddenly I was telling them about the accident that killed my son and maimed my daughter. I remember crying and the woman, who introduced herself as Barb, told me she’d heard of the accident.

Then Barb told her husband Delbert to walk me out to the field. I prayed as we walked into the pasture. My daughter loved horses as I did. If Elizabeth and I shared the care for a horse, it could help the two of us heal together.

Delbert called, “Skipper!”

A gelding stuck his head around the corner of the barn but didn’t move.

“Call Shadey,” Barb suggested.

Delbert did and a mare came out of the barn. She trotted to us, the gelding following.

The moment I saw the mare I knew I wanted her. The gelding nuzzled my arm and I stroked his face. He was beautiful. When the mare started shoving her nose into my other arm I stroked her too.

“Will you sell me the mare?” I asked.

Delbert chuckled and shook his head. “Barb would never part with Shadey. She raised her from a foal. She’s her child.”

He glanced at his wife who was standing on the other side of the fence.

I stroked both horses as we stood talking. When I stopped touching the mare, she shoved her head against me. I was falling more in love with both horses. I knew I should save myself the trouble of hearing “no” again by leaving.

Barb turned and walked into the house. A few minutes later she returned and stood beside the pasture fence.

She said, “I’ll sell you both horses.”

Delbert’s mouth dropped open as my heart skipped a beat. Delbert said, “I never thought she’d ever part with that mare!”

We walked to the house and I wrote a check for the amount Barb asked.

Elizabeth and I began the mending process living one day at a time, sometimes minute by minute. We took care of the horses together, feeding and grooming them and babied them through their first horseshoes and saddles. We healed as we shared the love and work that went into raising horses. The sadness that surrounded my daughter began to disappear.

I knew the pain of losing my son would never go away, but as I devoted time to caring for my daughter and encouraged her involvement with the horses I slowly learned to laugh again.

The time came for our mare to be bred. I located a breeder, called him and we made arrangements for Shadey to go to his ranch. She would stay a month.

I made many trips to Phil’s ranch to visit Shadey. I wanted her to know we hadn’t forgotten her. On my second visit I met Phil’s mother. Thelma was a gentle woman, thoughtful and kind. She invited me in for coffee. I accepted, grateful to have another woman to talk to.

After she’d poured my coffee she asked, “Did you know that Barb, the woman who you bought Shadey from, was my sister?”

Surprised, I said, “No. How is she?”

Thelma lowered her eyes. For a moment she said nothing. Then her cool blue eyes stared into mine as she said, “She died.”

“Oh Thelma, I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head and reached over to touch my hand. “It’s all right. It was unexpected but she went peacefully.”

The older woman sighed. “I want to tell you something I think you should know. Barb knew she was dying. She didn’t tell any of us, not even her husband, but her doctor told us that she’d known for months before she went.”

I didn’t know why Thelma was telling me this. It was such a private thing.

She took a deep breath. “Barb would never have parted with Shadey. That mare was like her child. But when we discovered she knew she was dying we also knew why she sold the mare to you. Delbert told us how you kept touching Shadey, the way you looked at her, and the way the mare stayed beside you. Shadey never went to other people. My sister saw something in you that told her she could trust you.

“She knew you would love Shadey as much as she did. She needed to be sure that Shadey would be cared for by someone who would love her. Knowing my sister as I did, I know she wanted to ease the pain of your loss with the only thing she could: the mare that was like her own child. Barb died six months after she sold Shadey to you.”

I wiped tears from my cheek as Thelma touched my shoulder.

“I’m glad you have my sister’s mare. I’ve seen you with her and I know what Barb saw when she decided to sell her to you. She saw love and kindness and gentleness.”

When I left Thelma’s house that day, I left with a gentle peace in my heart for the woman who, through her unselfish love and compassion, had given me the greatest gift — the trust to give me that which she loved, a gift that started the healing my daughter and I had needed.

~Jo Davis

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