20: Loss and Found

20: Loss and Found

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Loss and Found

Everyone entrusted with a mission is an angel.

~Moses Maimonides

“You’ll need to care for Mom now, because I can’t anymore,” Dad told us from his hospital bed. His journey with esophageal cancer was nearing the end.

Being the only child of four living in the same town as my parents, I was the one who could care for them. After Dad’s death, Mom and I were inseparable. Because she was legally blind with macular degeneration, she couldn’t drive, read her mail or handle tasks that required visual acuity. I helped her as much as I could, but found it difficult because I was working full-time.

Thankfully my husband understood. He said I could quit my job and concentrate on caring for Mom. Throughout the next fourteen years I spent time with my beautiful mother nearly every day. We became very close. She was more than Mom; she was my best friend.

I thought Mom would enjoy a dog or cat but wasn’t sure that was a good idea due to her limited eyesight. With this in mind, I bought her a stuffed animal for Christmas two years after Dad died. It came with batteries and would bark and wag its tail when petted. It was a perfect pet for Mom.

A few years ago, when Mom decided to move from her home to an assisted living facility, she had to leave many things behind. Her new apartment was small and would only accommodate a minimum amount of belongings. But there was no hesitation regarding the mechanical stuffed dog. It was making the move with Mom.

I adored my mom. She was a strong woman, full of grace. The last four days of her life I stayed with her. I watched her sleep and attended to her needs. On her last day, I woke the moment she took her last breath. It was 3:48 in the morning.

Mom was gone. After fourteen years of doctor visits, hospital stays, and sharing tears and fears, her trials were over. I brushed her hair for the last time and said goodbye.

The day following the funeral we were saying goodbye to my niece, Ann, as she was flying back to her family in Atlanta. She asked if she could have some of Mom’s recipes. I immediately thought of the Recipes from Home recipe book.

Mom lived the last three and a half years of her life at an assisted living facility where the residents contributed favorite recipes for a professionally published recipe book. Many of Mom’s recipes were included and she had purchased an extra copy to give as a gift—should the occasion arise. This was the time.

In the midst of funeral arrangements, we had moved Mom’s belongings from her apartment and stacked them in our garage. A few pieces of furniture and numerous quickly-packed boxes took up half of our two-stall garage. Because my brother was one of the packers, I asked him to help find the recipe book. Five of us were standing in the garage and watched as he opened box after box. None of them produced the book.

In the interest of time, I told Ann that I would eventually find the book and ship it to her. As we were trudging toward the house we heard a dog bark. It was the mechanical bark from Mom’s stuffed animal I had given her all those years before. The batteries had never been changed and were most likely the ones that allowed the dog to perform demo duties on the store shelf twelve Christmases earlier.

No one had touched the dog that day and none of the boxes we touched were close to the dog’s box. We were surprised by the mechanical barking, but we kept on walking. And then, suddenly, my brother came to a halt. He remembered packing the recipe book in the same box as the dog. He walked over to the barking dog box and pulled out the book!

I truly believe Mom was helping us. She was always well organized, even in her later years with limited eyesight. She knew what was important and where to keep it for easy retrieval. I’m sure she wanted us to find the book so Ann could have it before going back to Atlanta. Everybody was comforted by Mom’s unexpected message. We gave each other smiles and hugs.

Mom’s death was a loss for my husband, too. Every Sunday it was Mike who insisted we spend time with her. He never wanted to miss a Sunday with Mom. We took lunch and sat around her table talking politics, religion, her life and anything else on her mind. He often said she was his Mom, too.

A few days after Mom and her dog helped us find the recipe book, Mike was leaving the garage and the dog barked at him, again without a touch or bump. He was surprised. He walked over to the dog and carefully turned it outward to face the garage door. When he looked back a few moments later, the mechanical tail was wagging.

Was this another message from Mom? A friendly hello? Maybe Mom was telling him, “You’ll need to care for my daughter now, because I can’t anymore.”

Although the toy’s unexplained barking may strike others as bizarre, it gives me hope and reassurance. It tells me that Mom is still with me and will be my angel whenever or wherever I need her.

~Carol Greenley Papenthien

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