And now, Cosette…(otherwise known as the 'Donovan Approves' story)
May 1, 2017
I’m gonna tell you right now that this story would probably be better told than read. I’ll do my best to keep it as engaging on the page as I think it could be if I were able to tell it to you all in person. But it would be more fun, I think, were I able to really get the timing of how these things all fell together told more cleanly - and if I could illustrate some parts of the story with inflection, and gesture, and facial expressions (the most wonderful things that I love so much about live storytelling). Still, it’s one of my favorites, so I want to give it a go. It’s kind of the third in the trilogy of stories about losing Donovan, recovering, and then moving on to love again. It’s about trusting your heart when it says that it’s time to welcome a new dog, and letting yourself love them with your whole heart and soul. I think (I hope) it is the most optimistic of the three. And, as with some of the other stories I’ve told, I’m not sure I’d believe it if it hadn’t happened to me.
But it did happen. And it was amazing. So, here we go.
Taking The Chance:
It was almost two months after Donovan died when the chance to adopt again presented itself. And truthfully, one of the things I never saw coming was how conflicted even considering that idea would, initially, make me feel. Donovan meant the world to me. He was family. When he died, the grief was crippling. Yet, in my lucid moments, when clarity (and reason) would graciously stop by, I knew - and truly believed - he wouldn’t want his loss to keep me from loving - and being loved by - another dog. Donovan was all about love. And strength. And resiliency - SO much of all of that. I knew he’d want me to move on. But I couldn’t imagine how or when that could (or would) ever actually happen.
Then, in what felt like the blink of an eye, we were forwarded a picture.
There, by a Christmas tree, looking back at us hopefully, sat Cosette.
She was wearing an optimistic smile, a bandana round her neck, and she sported a unequivocally joyous sparkle made up equally of love and mischief in her beautiful brown eyes. Instantly, I was in love.
It was New Year’s Eve day. At the time, to us, the details of her story were a little sketchy. We knew she was found by a stranger, running alone in California. She was surrendered to a shelter there by the man who said he'd found her, and they thought she was a poodle. Once they realized she was an IWS, the incredible IWSCA rescue folks sprung into action, pulling her from the shelter, and they began the task of helping her begin a new life. Such amazing people - to whom I feel like we owe such a debt of gratitude! While we knew she was now safe and recovering, she was in very rough shape when they found her - clearly showing the physical and emotional stress from all those months trying to fend for herself on the streets. And saddest of all, in a mystery that still remains unsolved, no one - not her breeder, not her owner, not her anybody - appeared to be looking for her. She was a beautiful little dog with an incredibly lovely smile, and the sweetest, most resilient sprit you could imagine. But she had nobody to call her own.
She needed a home, and a family. The question of ‘are we ready’ zoomed in to sit directly alongside a picture of her gorgeous little face. There was something in her eyes that spoke to me. You know that feeling, right? Where - even in a still photograph - you are moved in a way you can’t explain by a dog you’ve never even met?
That happened with Donovan. And now, again, with Cosette.
I had always imagined, if we ever got another dog, it would be a old one. Donovan was 10 when we got him - roughly 13.5 when he died. And living with a senior dog was a profoundly rewarding experience that I really wanted to do again. Instead, here was a (probably) 2-year old puppy. In need. Without a home. With her own story of survival and resiliency. With a sparkling smile and those soulful eyes. With boundless energy and springs in her toes. With a name straight from one of my all-time favorite musicals (as an actor/singer myself, somehow her name seemed fated too). She needed someone to believe in her. And, turns out, I (my husband and I both) really needed another dog to love.
So, we said yes. And, just like Donovan, now Cosette crossed the country from one coast to the other, heading for her new home.
As her arrival drew near, I was so excited. But, truthfully, I was really scared, too. And I still felt so torn. And what was worse, I couldn’t quite figure out why I was feeling any of those things. I should be feeling joy, and lots of it! Truly, who on earth is SAD about the arrival of a beautiful new puppy? Especially one as absolutely lovely as Cosette? Well, turns out, I was. I was sad. And happy too, of course. But, maybe a little more sad than happy, at least at first. And I didn’t understand it.
Until, one day, I did. You probably figured this out at the beginning, but it took me a while to get there. When I finally untangled it all, I realized that, in my brain, welcoming Cosette meant saying a final goodbye to Donovan. And that felt like a betrayal. Like in giving my heart to her I was truly accepting the fact that he was really gone. It meant he WAS really gone. And that in moving forward with this wonderful new pup, I was leaving Donovan behind. Saying goodbye for good. And that idea ripped my heart out. I’d never felt pulled in such opposite directions. And so ashamed that I felt anything but joy. And too, I worried I wouldn’t be a worthy home for her. I kept wondering, would Cosette love and trust me? Could I make her life happy? Would Donovan approve of me letting another dog into my life? Could I be as good to Coco as Donovan always was to me?
Would we be enough?
Of course we would. But I needed a little help finally reaching (and trusting in) that conclusion. Little did we know, soon we’d get the validation I’d been hoping for. The guidance from the spirits I couldn’t dare imagine would chime in, but that I most wanted to hear from. As you probably figured out, soon Donovan himself would let us know, in no uncertain terms, that we’d done the right thing. He’d help me see we’d absolutely be enough. He helped me see, and trust, that we needed her as much as she needed us. And he’d show me that, as he’d always been and will always be, he was still here to welcome, and to love, Cosette too. All with classic Donovan humor, and style. And someone else would stop by too...cause it's that kind of story (and these are the things that happen to me).
Signals from the sky:
And so, Cosette arrived. From Seattle, to Boston, And then up to Gloucester.
Where our new life began with a walk.
It was the first time we were taking her down to the ocean. To the sandy beaches in the giant park with tree-lined paths that we love so very much. To the place that had meant so much to Donovan; that had been so central to all the wonderful stories, sunny days, morning walks, and sunsets that had filled his last three years. This was mid-February, it was cold and snowy, but we found ourselves taking deep breaths of the icy air in again and again as we laughed deeply watching our California girl discover what New England winters are all about. It felt new, and scary, and wonderful, and right.
As we turned a corner, at the meeting of two of the paths, we met another man with a small dog, out for a wander too. Now Donovan was never a fan of other dogs, so my instinct was to turn away. But Cosette is not Donovan. And she wanted to say hello - so we stayed for a moment to meet the man and chat.
His little dog gave a big bark as Coco approached, and as the two dogs sniffed and made peace with one another, the man looked at us and said, ‘Never mind her barking - it’s just her way of saying hello. She’s 13.5, and her teeth are kind of a mess, so she just makes the most of what she’s got these days!’. We laughed, said our goodbyes, and carried on. I thought to myself that it was funny, running into an old dog, exactly Donovan’s age, who had the same bad teeth that he did. That the first dog we’d meet with our lovely new dog would share two of the defining things about our most wonderful old one. But, we kept on walking. Surely, that was just coincidence.
We were almost home, when again we passed another man (he was 78, he later told me) with another little dog, this one a beautiful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Again, we stopped, and struck up a conversation. Generally being more comfortable with dogs than with people, I kneeled down to meet her and as she eagerly approached, I looked up and said, “She’s so beautiful - what’s her name?”
“Angel” he said. “Her name is Angel. She’s all I've got now - my son, my wife - both gone. But she’s still here. Just she and me these days. I love her.”
I took a breath. Angel. Her name is ANGEL? On one side of me sat Cosette, politely getting pats from my husband and the man. On the other side, was Angel, who had dropped her head in my hands, and sighed. Her tail was wagging wildly, and her eyes were closed in bliss as I stroked her ears and rubbed under her chin.
First we’d met a 13.5 year-old dog with bad teeth. Now we’d met another one named Angel. I was beginning to see a pattern.
I can’t recall exactly how the words were said, but the man with the gentle Angel dog and the even gentler spirit, that man who’d clearly lived with so much loss, kept talking. As if out of the heavens himself, he shared his stories - somehow exactly the ones I needed that day. In such a short time, he gave me so much. Finally, as the chill of the day settled in and the sun began to set, he looked at me and asked, quietly, if I believed in spirits. If I believed that love goes on. I told him that I did. I told him about Donovan, and how much I missed him, and how we’d had to say goodbye.
And he smiled. With incredible clarity, sure of every word, he told me, “Don’t worry, they’re never really gone. They come back to visit you when you’re not expecting it, if you let them. The ones who leave? They come back. I promise you. You gotta believe it can happen, but that dog you love so much - he’s still here, I mean, you know that right?”
Well, yes. I do know that. And that same dog is doing everything he can to make that clear. I leaned back down to say goodbye to Angel, and she kissed my cheek and smiled. I stood again and thanked the man, whose name I learned was Joe. And after hugging my brand new puppy, so so tight, and sending a big thank you up to Donovan in the sky for sending me his Angels, we made our way back home.
Earlier in the day, my laptop had suddenly stopped booting up. Drats. I was hoping it was simply the power supply, so later that night, with Cosette tucked in at home under the watchful eye of my husband, I headed to the mall to buy a new one. As I drove through the night, everything in the day - the dogs, the man, the Angels, the everything, kind of sloshed around in my head like a slurry. I did already so love Cosette. And I’d come around to the idea that maybe starting a new love affair didn’t mean saying goodbye to the old one. But I was still all over the place. I missed him. I loved her. I missed my mom (cause for whatever reason, when I’m grappling with loss somehow, I guess not expectedly, her death is still a part of that). Plus my laptop ... grr. It was nice to have something else to focus on - hopefully an easy problem to solve.
I headed into the store. On my way back out, I saw a medium sized pickup/box truck with a road salt dispenser on the back - the kind that are quite common on the roads of Massachusetts during winter months. Without warning, the driver got out of the truck and announced jovially at the top of his lungs, ‘Ladies and Gentleman, the salt show is about to begin!’ and with it, he turned on the truck and the salt began to spin from the back of the vehicle. With folks around him (me included) laughing, he got into the truck too and pulled away - starting his rounds through the parking lot.
I made my way back to my car, and pulled out - heading slowly through the parking lot to the traffic lights at the exit. As I did, the music in my car kicked on and Pandora began playing. Now I’ve told you all enough stories of how music always tends to talk to me at important times in my life. And lord knows, it's always been this way - even long before I realized (I thought) I was the only one who was experiencing this marvel. When I was a kid, I remember standing up at some important transitional moment/function thing where we’d all been gathered together (6th grade graduation maybe?). Up there, in front of my class, little me stood there proudly holding up a boom box (kind of like the lead character in one of my all time favorite movies - Say Anything - does while trying to woo his date) and telling my dear classmates - with what I meant with my whole soul to be heartfelt gravitas - that I wanted to play them a song that I thought summed up our time together. And then I hit play on the tape deck, and stood there while Elton John’s song ‘Friends’ filled the room. And my entire class looked back at me in my Mary Janes and likely ill-fitting cotton jumper (probably with an embroidered horse head on the pocket) as if instead of being an awkward tween kid who had shared their classroom that instead I was some alien being with 14 heads, 57 arms, sporting a polka dot dress. And a wig. I remember looking back at them and thinking to myself, 'well..so this isn’t exactly going quite as I'd intended.
Anyway, rightly or wrongly, music means a lot to me and this night, the song that came on whatever shuffle of stations Pandora chose to play was ‘If’, by the group Bread (from the 70’s).
ARGH!!!! And suddenly my mother was in the car.
Many memories of my mom are also tied to music. I remember falling asleep to the sounds of her Harry Chapin and John Denver records when I was a kid. And, years later, as a teenager, of her falling asleep to her favorite Barbara Streisand records, and to Bach’s Air on G String as she was dying. She loved music too. And the memory tied to this particular song was, of all things, a segment from The Muppet Show.
My mom and I used to watch The Muppet Show sometimes. I absolutely loved it (though Miss Piggy was always way too brash for my tastes…I was always more a Rowlf the Dog or Gonzo fan). One night, in 1977, we were watching. Cleo Laine was the guest star. And she sang the song alongside some absolutely spectacular puppetry work. I remember knowing that what I watching was very beautiful, and sensitive, and being moved by it though not quite understanding why, or what it meant. Then I remember looking over at my mom, tears rolling down her face as she watched, mesmerized, and knowing that, to her, whatever it meant, whatever its message, ‘it’ was extraordinarily beautiful and profoundly moving. The tears weren’t sad ones exactly, though at that point in my life I didn’t have a way of understanding what they meant. Years later, I know. And I too have cried those same tears more times than I can count - while listening to Coltrane or Yo Yo Ma, or to the scores of Ennio Morricone. While cantering a perfect 20 meter circle in the almost warm sunshine on a crisp autumn day. While flying through the air on the trapeze under the blue sky or when hanging upside down or rolled up in the ropes on the static trapeze. When walking hand in hand with someone you love. Stuff like that can bring those tears - the ones that make you so happy and so grateful and so incredibly thrilled and humbled by what it is to be alive. What it means to know that, no matter what we do, we will not always be…
And moments like this, in the car, as you lovingly remember you mom on a winter’s night so many years later, can too. ‘Hi Mom’, I found myself saying out loud. ‘I’m so glad you’re here’. And smiling. If you want to see the piece (thank you youtube)- you can see it here. I didn’t realize until after the fact that in this piece, being alive, and then not being, are at the core of the song (and the puppetry) itself.
Just then, I noticed that the salt truck, the same one from the parking lot earlier, was now sitting in front of me at the light, waiting his turn, like me, to head out on the highway. Funny, I thought. And then I looked closer.
And on the back of the truck was a big round logo with one word in the middle: DONOVAN. It was on the mud flaps too, I think. I looked it up later - apparently there is a place based in NH called ‘Donovan Equipment Company’ and they make all kinds of trucks. But really, having never in my life ever seen one of their trucks before, what are the chances I’d find them in the parking lot at the mall on THIS night while contemplating all these things?
Now I am the one weeping. I mean, come on. First the old dog with the bad teeth, then the old man with the Angel dog and the talk of spirits, then my mother and the Muppet Show and now, DONOVAN shows up? And he makes sure his name is front and center so I can’t possibly miss it?
Then, joy. Just so much joy. I started laughing, and I think - for the first time maybe all day, I really did believe that everything was going to be okay. In an instant, I realized - earlier in the day, I’d asked for guidance. Were we ready? Could we love again? Would Cosette be happy? Would Donovan approve? I’d asked all these things, and more. And while so many loved ones here on earth had already assured me of the same, now the two souls I loved and missed most in the world were doing it too. And doing it in the cheeky, loving fashion I’d come to expect from them both.
I got on the highway. Still laughing. And now talking out loud to them both. The music changed, and a Karla Bonoff song I’d never heard before (until I heard her sing it live in concert) called ‘Goodbye My Friend’ came on.
GOODBYE MY FRIEND. I know, right? I KNOW! STOP IT! But of course, please don’t stop it…as it felt like such a gift. It felt as if I was talking directly to their spirits, the both of them. I know it sounds crazy. I know it IS crazy, but by now - well, it all seemed perfectly plausible and perfectly sent to help me understand that everything really was okay, and that I could move on. If you’ve never listened to the song, do. It’s beautiful. You can find it here:
The lyrics from the chorus should tell you everything you need to know…
So goodbye my friend
I know I'll never see you again
But the love you gave me through all the years
Will take away my tears
I'm O.K. now
Goodbye my friend
The song ended. I took a breath. I think maybe Pandora played a commercial - for which I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful. I needed to process…
Finally, I figured, what the hell…I’m already in my car by myself driving down the highway on a winter’s night talking to dead dogs and dead family. Why not ask for one more favor - they don’t seem to mind. So, as the tears were still rolling down my face (those happy/sad/glad to be alive/sad to know I won’t always be/these things happen apparently when talking to spirits ones) I asked for one more thing, this time from my dog. I asked Donovan to help me with Cosette. I asked him to let her know she is safe, and loved, and would never have to handle anything on her own or want for anything ever again. I asked him to help me be patient with her, and for her to be patient with us. I asked him to be her protector, as he always was for me. I know, crazy. But hey - given the day - I figured, why not.
And then, the final song began to play. It was James Taylor’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend’. I know you know the lyrics to that one..
I just shook my head, and laughed. And cried. I laugh cried. He heard me. He answered.
When the song ended, I turned everything off but the night sounds and and drove the rest of the way home. Just taking everything in. When I walked in the door, I hugged our new puppy so so tight. And I hugged my husband too. I just knew...as they say in another of my all time favorite songs, 'every little thing is gonna be alright'.
If it hadn’t happened to me, I would never have believed it. But it did happen. And I will never forget it. And I know, everyday, Donovan is here looking down. As is my mom. As are the souls you love - be they on four legs or two - always looking down on you. Sometimes you may have to look a bit to find them - but take the time to try. I promise you - if you’re open to it - you’ll find them everywhere. On mud flats and truck logos, with y-sticks and heads up pennies (my Mom’s favorite), on the radio, in the sunset, in the summer breeze and the double-rainbows that unabashedly shine through after a giant storm has passed.
I asked. And Donovan approved. My mom did too.
And as I finish this story, my dear Cosette is sleeping soundly with her head at my hip. Snoring even. I’ll wake her for a walk in the rain in a minute or two. For now though, as I remember all of this, and the amazing dog that started it all, about to cry those happy/sad/grateful tears again…so grateful to be alive for whatever time I’m given, and to have this gift of loving (and being loved by) another wonderful dog while I’m here. And too, I guess, grateful to know that someday when the time comes to move on from this lifetime, that, if I’m lucky, I’m hoping some pretty amazing souls will be waiting up there in the clouds to greet me. And that maybe, just maybe, together we can drop in from the heavens to play songs, answer questions, and keep offering love. I think that’s what they call a silver lining… :)