Afghan War vet surprises mom with new car

Acts of kindness help with PTSD, she says

Published on April 25, 2014
Warrant Officer Renay Groves hugs her mom Marie Spurrell after surprising her with a new car at Hickman Motors on Kenmount Road in St. John’s Thursday. — Photo by Mark Rendell/Special to The Telegram

Marie Spurrell walked into Hickman Motors expecting repairs, but drove out in her first new car, her daughter in full military uniform by her side.

Warrant Officer Renay Groves, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan now stationed in Kingston, Ont., hadn’t told her mom she was coming home.

In the dealership showroom, Groves waited in the front of a 2014 silver Chevrolet Trax, decked out with Happy Mother’s Day balloons.

“I didn’t really know what was going on,” said Spurrell, describing how she climbed into the car and her daughter’s embrace. “But I was so happy and so excited.”

“This was better than winning a million dollars.”

Groves’ brother Kevin Spurrell, himself a veteran, who recently flew in from Edmonton to surprise their mother, had brought Spurrell to the dealership on the pretense of discussing repairs and ushered her into the car.

Took a moment to sink in

“I don’t think she realized that that was her car at that moment,” said Groves. “Then I whispered in her ear, ‘Mom this is your car, this is yours.’ ‘I’m going to kill you!’ she said.’”

Spurrell, 67, has never owned a new car.

Eight weeks ago her “clunker” broke down, forcing her to walk everywhere or catch a ride with others.

For Groves, surprising her mom with a car wasn’t just about getting her back on the road and in a safe vehicle — it was about giving her a good experience of the Canadian Forces uniform.  

“She’s had a lot of heartache with our service, a combined service of 34 years between my brother and I, and my sister has 18,” said Groves. “She has sat in the living room many times in fear that we weren’t coming home, or we weren’t going to survive when we got back.”

In 2009, Spurrell had to watch as her daughter helped carry the coffin of a friend, journalist Michelle Lang, to an airplane at the Kandahar airport.

“I came back. And today my mission in life is to take my mother out of that living room, from watching the news of her daughter carrying a casket to an aircraft in Kandahar, to a happy moment to be associated with this uniform.”

“Because this uniform,” Groves said, hugging her mom with tears in her eyes, “has given me so much. It has given your grandchildren so much.”

The purchase was helped by Hickman Motors, which has a $750 discount for people in the military.

Groves, who was diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) in 2013, said acts of kindness like this can save lives.

“It’s a daily struggle,” she said. “You’re having a hard day and somebody cuts you off in traffic, or puts their fist up to you, or whatever, it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back based on everything that’s happened before.”

When people demonstrate support and appreciation for service people, she says, it can brighten their days and keep them from becoming depressed.

“There definitely will be a hundred happy days ahead of this celebration. So that’s the difference that it makes. It’s huge. It keeps you out of a not-so-nice zone, if you will. And I won’t get into that zone. Cause I’m ok.”

Groves has a long history of showing other soldiers that she cares.

In 2002 she began writing poetry in memory of fallen comrades and in 2006 she started a project called “Notes From Home,” a handmade book of messages from civilians to Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

At first she spent weekends in her local grocery story store in Ottawa, where she was posted at the time, gathering notes and signatures from other customers. But following interest from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gen. Rick Hillier the book toured across the county, eventually being filled with 80,000 messages.  

She took the book to Afghanistan to share with her fellow soldiers before donating it to the Canadian War Museum as, “a handwritten history from Canada to our soldiers.”

More recently, she brought 161 poppies home from the Canadian base in Kandahar and affixed them to a memorial she designed from a destroyed tank. The memorial, which commemorates Canadians who died in Afghanistan, tours the country and will likely come to St. John’s sometime in the next year.

Groves knows the power of a gesture and she hopes Thursday’s surprise will not only show her own love for her mom but also show that there is community support for soldiers like herself.