From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Not All Art Hangs in Galleries

God forbid I should go to any heaven where there are no horses.

R.B. Cunningham Graham

”So, tell me about your new horse,” my mother asked.

What I had called my mom about was her surgery the next day and to finalize our plans for my coming over to help her when she came home from the hospital in two days. I hadn’t even planned on mentioning the new horse. My mom was a city kid who always loved animals, horses included, but had never learned how to ride. But she always supported my love of horses and so I told her about my as yet unnamed rescue horse. I told her how a friend had this little mare, an underfed palomino Paint, dumped on him and that she was very gentle. I hoped to be able to train her for my children to ride.

I still remember that conversation. I was talking on the portable phone while standing out on my back porch, watching the little golden mare down in the pasture. It was the last time I ever talked with my mother.

The next day, I was in town buying shoes when a great fear suddenly washed over me. I thought of my mom’s surgery, stopped in mid-purchase and rushed home to call the hospital. It took a while to get information but something was going wrong. She had been in recovery but they had rushed her back into surgery. Many frantic phone calls later, information trickled back to me. Bleeding in her brain, doctors trying to stop the bleeding, ICU, intercranial pressure, the news was all terrible. Absolutely terrible.

I rushed over to the town where she lived, a three-hour drive. It was hot summertime and she was unconscious in the ICU as the whole family descended in a panic. Tempers flared like the heat. None of us were prepared for this. The weeks that followed were hell. Mom’s intercranial pressure came back down and the doctors were able to wean her off the respirator. They got her out of ICU and into a regular hospital bed. But she remained in a coma, unconscious and unresponsive. Brain damage had occurred and we waited to see what and how much.

Through those weeks, I was in a dream state. I drove back and forth between my town and hers every several days, where I would sit beside her in the hospital and sing to her for hours, hoping against hope that my voice would reach into her private prison and comfort her. Then back home again, driving across the desert in my rickety truck with no air conditioning, back to my farm and children to take care of my responsibilities there. And to replenish my spirit.

Out in the pasture, my new horse grazed, my little golden mare. I had no time to even halter her, although occasionally I would walk out to check her and to lean on her shoulder and breathe her sweet horse scent. But mostly, I watched her from my back porch, a ray of sunshine out in my green pasture, the only spot of light, it seemed, in my increasingly desperate world.

Every time I traveled to see my mom, she looked worse. The longer she went without recovering consciousness, the worse the prognosis. The doctors did brain scans, told me the grim news and we moved her to a hospice. I got done what needed to be done. My mother was my best friend, my cheerleader, my mentor and the one person who believed in me when no one else did. And she was slowly dying before my eyes and there was nothing I could do to help her. Outside, I was numb, just going through the motions. Inside, I was clinging to the vision of the little golden mare, glowing in the sunshine down in the green pastures.

My mother died five weeks after a surgery she thought would improve her life. She had been looking forward to regaining her ability to drive a car and not being dependent. Instead, she had a surgical accident and never awoke. I consoled myself that at least she never had to wake to the realization of what had happened to her; she never had to lose her hope. There was only one way left for her to achieve independence and that was to walk the pathway to the spirit world. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss her.

What got me through those terrible days were the kindness of friends and a vision of beauty, a splash of golden sunlight in a terribly dark world. For those of us who truly love horses, we don’t have to ride them, even touch them, for them to bring us great joy and comfort. The value of a horse goes beyond its use. Its utility is in simply being what it is. Sometimes just seeing a horse calmly grazing in a green pasture is all we need.

People pay great amounts of money for works of art that hang on their walls. It is not alive, but comes alive inside them when it touches their hearts with wonder. But not all art hangs in galleries. Sometimes it walks in our fields like golden sunlight.

Janice Willard, D.V.M., M.S.

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