Honey’s Greatest Gift

Honey’s Greatest Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Honey’s Greatest Gift

Like most families with a dog, we loved our yellow Lab and treasured the gifts she brought into our lives. From the time she joined our family at the age of seven weeks, Honey enlivened our household with her boundless enthusiasm, happiness and love. Her powerful “helicopter” tail wagged in a circle; she loved to play hide-and-seek with us and readily allowed visiting children to crawl all over her—and to play with her tennis balls and squeaky toys.

When our oldest son, Josh, began kindergarten, our youngest son, Daniel, found an eager playmate in Honey. When Daniel began school, she became my companion, often sitting next to me, head resting on my lap as I did paperwork for our fledgling business. But it was her companionship with my mother that led to what was, perhaps, her greatest gift.

Growing up in Germany, Mom’s life had been difficult. A stern older couple adopted her when she was about three years old. At sixteen, the town she lived in, Wuerzburg, was leveled during a World War II air strike. She fled from town to town on her own, trying to survive and suffering repeated rejections by people who could have helped her, but instead looked after their own interests. Then she married my father, an American soldier. Their marriage was not a happy one, and Mom struggled in her role as a mother of four. Between my mother’s unhappiness and my father’s quiet and distant nature, there wasn’t a lot of emotional nurturing in our family.

When Mom—a widow—moved to our city as a senior citizen, I was concerned. Would we relate? Could I deal with the emotional distance between us? To top it off, once again Mom felt lonely and displaced. In an effort to ease her loneliness, Mom often drove the mile to our house to walk Honey. They were perfect for each other. Mom walked slowly, and by this time, so did Honey, also a senior citizen. Together they explored the trails that interlace our neighborhood. The gentle yellow dog brought out a softness in Mom. My mother babied Honey, sometimes sneaking her forbidden foods despite my protests. Although I considered Honey a family member, to me she was still a dog, but to Mom she was nearly human; as a result, we occasionally clashed over our differing “dog-parenting” styles.

It was about a year after Mom’s arrival that my husband, Steve, and I knew Honey’s end was near. Honey, now fourteen, could no longer curl up to sleep. Her joints were stiff, and though we gave her daily anti-inflammatory drugs, we suspected she continued to suffer. But we didn’t have the heart to put her to sleep. In spite of her physical ailments, Honey still fetched the paper daily and turned into a puppy at the prospect of a walk. Her enthusiasm for life masked what should have been obvious.

Then one sunny Tuesday in March, I finally understood that our stoic pet had had enough. She was clearly suffering, and I knew it was time. Before I could change my mind about doing what we had put off for too long, I called the vet. They made arrangements for Honey’s favorite veterinarian, Dr. Jane, to come in on her day off. Steve met me at the vet’s office and together we comforted Honey as she slipped away from this world.

Her loss affected me far more than I could have imagined. I moped around the house, restless and overcome by sudden bursts of tears. My grieving was heightened by the fact that just a few months before we had also become empty nesters. Without Honey to fill her customary space in our kitchen, our house now seemed bigger and emptier than before.

I resisted telling Mom that we had put her walking buddy to sleep. How could I cope with her emotional reaction, which I anticipated would be greater than my own? So, I hatched a plan: Steve had to work late on Thursday night. Mom and I could have dinner together; after dinner I would reveal my secret.

“Okay,” Mom said when I telephoned. “I’ll come over.”

“No, no,” I countered, realizing she would wonder where Honey was as soon as she walked through the door. “Why don’t you cook for us? I’d like to eat at your house.”

Mom agreed. I don’t remember the conversation we had or what we ate because the whole time I was distracted by the secret I was keeping. Finally, it was time to leave, and I still couldn’t tell Mom about Honey. Mom made herself cozy on her sofa. I said good-bye, pulled on my coat and was at the door when I forced myself to turn around.

Sitting stiffly near Mom with my coat on, I blurted: “Mom, we put Honey to sleep on Tuesday.”

“Oh, no!” Mom cried out. “I didn’t get to say good-bye.”

To my surprise, Iwas the onewho started to cry. Through my tears I explained why we had put Honey to sleep. With more honesty and vulnerability than I had ever shown to my mother, I blubbered, “I miss her so much.”

“But you carried on with her so,” she said, referring to our differences concerning Honey’s “parenting.”

“I know, but I loved her. We did so much together.”

Mom scooted closer to me on the couch. “I’m so sorry,” she said, wrapping her arms around me. Then she cradled me while I rested my head on her chest and sobbed.

For the first time in forty-six years I experienced the calm reassurance of a mother’s love. Soaking up my mother’s tenderness, I marveled that it had its root in her relationship with Honey. And, although crying in my mother’s arms didn’t take away my pain, I was deeply comforted. I lost a loving companion that week, but I also gained something rich and beautiful. My mom and I finally made an emotional connection, which has continued to expand— thanks to Honey and her last and greatest gift.

B. J. Reinhard

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

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