There is mourning on a quiet street in Fort Mill.
Neighbors in this older neighborhood of small homes near the old PTL property, many of them transplants from the cities of the Northeast, are offering condolences and crying at windows.
An older woman named Lucy said it is “the saddest death I can remember.”
Death came to a companion of Linda Dionna, a 65-year-old widow. The companion was without question the most loyal in Fort Mill, for this widow is deaf and has been all her life, never having heard the words, “I love you.”
Somehow, she insists, she heard “I love you” in the barks of her dog, Lassie, who died at the age of 10.
Although Linda cannot talk, she speaks through sign language. She also can mouth many words, and her children interpret for her.
“She said she is so sad,” said son Vincent Dionna. “She said she can’t believe he is gone. She said she feels so alone.”
Her tears needed no interpretation.
Lassie came to Linda shortly after her husband died a decade ago, a tiny Shetland sheepdog pup she raised. The name came from the television show this New York City native watched, but never heard, as a child. Lassie of TV was the most loyal and brave and devoted dog in the history of dogs.
“My Lassie was just like that,” said Linda Dionna. “Lassie loved me.”
When the skies thundered, Lassie would watch Linda, who could not hear the thunder but could feel it. He would not leave her until the storm passed, sometimes for hours.
Lassie walked with Linda, rode in the car with Linda, went everywhere except to the part-time job Linda has working at her daughter’s day care center.
When Linda came home, Lassie would be there at the window.
Lassie was the window to the world for Linda, too, so much so that she believed that the dog could interpret her signs and feelings and body language.
Lassie needed no interpreter. The language of love is universal.
Linda insists that Lassie knew the signs for roll over and sit. Each morning at the same time, Lassie would put a paw on the arm of this woman who can hear no alarm clock to tell her it was time to get up.
“Lassie was not just a dog for my mother, Lassie loved my mother, and my mother loved Lassie,” said Vincent Dionna, one of Linda’s three adult children. “This was not what people know as a dog and master relationship. This was real love.
“They knew each other, and they loved each other.”
Lassie developed a tumor and never recovered after surgery. Lassie died, and a part of Linda died with him.
“My mother, who has been through so much in her life, who has lived so much without being able to hear, is devastated,” Vincent Dionna said.
Using sign language, Linda said she feels, even with her loving children around her, “so sad and broken.”
The hope, now, is that Linda can find another almost newborn puppy, the same breed, and raise that dog to be the next Lassie.
Until then, Linda will cry about the death, and her sobs will be the silent cries of a deaf widow. And the house where the death happened will stay silent.