I was walking the dogs around the VA complex this morning. It was quiet, one of the main reasons I enjoy going there on weekends. The grounds are lovely, with lots of flowering shrubs and trees; the new blooms helped to offset the dreary, damp weather and my mood. Alan was heavy on my mind--this being the month I became a widow three years ago--and of course, I can't think of him without also getting homesick for Edinburgh, my friends, the family...my old life.
As we left the large field where the dogs can run free and crossed the road back to the sidewalk, I could feel that painful prickling in my eyes, a warning of imminent tears. Thankfully, before I could lose the plot, the boys spotted a squirrel and dashed toward a tree, dragging me with them as they were leashed. Ozzy went around the tree to the left, Max to the right, and naturally, I got stuck pressed against the tree. It was funny...and chased away the demons. Such good dogs.
Nearly back to the car, just passing the main entrance to the hospital, a woman came out the doors and began to walk toward us. She was tall, attractive, with long gray hair past her shoulders even though she only appeared to be in her late 40s or so. She was wearing scrubs and a coat and at first I thought she was one of the nurses or doctors on staff. Except then I saw she was clutching a medium-sized, very scruffy black and white teddy bear, and her face was...sad, careworn, distressed.
At that point, I had sidewalk options: left around the building, straight on to meet with the woman, right to skirt a parking lot. Rather than bother her, I decided to turn left, but just as the boys and I veered away, she said, "Oh, please! Don't go!"
Startled, I turned back and waited for her to catch up with us. Now I could see the lanyard around her neck, her patient tag and ID in the plastic holder. "I saw you from my window," she said, pointing toward the upper floors of the hospital. "I just had to come out and see your dogs."
She told me that her dog had recently died and she missed him terribly...and was it okay if she petted mine. I told her Max was the love puppy, Ozzy wouldn't give her the time of day. The words were barely out of my mouth when Max went right up to her, wagging his tail like a windmill. She knelt down to pet him, then pulled him close and began to sob into his neck.
Oh man. I had been teetering on the brink myself just moments before. Now the lump in my throat was so big I could hardly breathe.
And then Ozzy came over. Mr Aloof, the dog who never speaks to strangers, let alone allows anyone to touch him, pokes his nose under the woman's arm and she's holding them both as she cries. It was horrible and heartbreaking and painfully wonderful that my boys were giving this woman comfort.
Course I cried.
After a few minutes she collected herself, gave them each a hug and a scratch and stood up. I handed her half of a crumpled tissue I had in my jacket pocket; I took the other half. She showed me the teddy bear that had belonged to her dog and I could see the telltale slime marks around the bear's middle. I asked her if she was going to be all right. She nodded, then thanked me for the "therapy" and walked back into the hospital.
Swept away by my own pain and memories, I have a tendency to forget one crucial thing: There's always someone out there who has it worse...