Sometimes the best stories, the happiest ones of all, the ones that tear at your heart strings, then make you very glad indeed to be alive…those stories…have that feel in part because their beginnings are so very sad.
I think this might be one of those. But I promise, the end will be worth the little bit of tenderness the beginning part might bring.
An extraordinarily beautiful thing happened.
The kind of thing that makes you believe in the kindness of strangers. And of fate. The kind that makes you sure you are married to a wonderful man. And that proves, even with all its sorrow, that the world is a joyous and magical place.
And it did so because of a exceptional cast of people, and animals.
There was a treasured old dog, who had just said goodbye. An abandoned old dog, who was currently dying. A courageous and impeccably honest husband who (at the time time it was hardest to do so) knew us both well enough to speak truth. And a wise, gentle man (with a very big heart) from the MSPCA named Mike, who gently led me through it all.
This is the story of Possum.
It was just before Thanksgiving. November, 2016.
Donovan's loss still agonizingly colored every moment of every day, and I was finding moving forward to be especially hard.
Now holidays, for me, are always loaded.
When I was a kid, on an otherwise ordinary autumn day just after we'd moved to Florida, my mom went to the doctor. She'd not been feeling well, and figured getting checked out might bring a little relief. Later that afternoon, she was admitted to the hospital, and soon thereafter diagnosed with appendiceal cancer. She was expected to be gone by Christmas (though thankfully, she actually lived much longer than that).
No matter how many years have passed since then, or how lovely the months in those years have been (here in New England, they’re often outright glorious), if I'm not vigilant about having it be otherwise, late fall and early winter days are always tinged with sadness. With reminders of past loss.
Especially in November.
The memory of the Thanksgiving dinner my Dad and I tried to share that first year, with our industrial ceramic ivory plates, sitting at a plastic table for two in an almost empty Morrison's cafeteria (in the mall across from the hospital where my mother lay dying) sometimes still can crash the current day's party if I'm not careful to firmly turn it away at the door.
With this Thanksgiving days away, I was really struggling. And ‘struggling’ doesn't even begin to convey how deeply my world had been rocked, but if you've had similar days then you understand. I'd spent many moments sitting on the rocks by the water overlooking the ocean asking for peace, or guidance, or even (please) just a few tiny glimmers of hope. But such things, those days, were incredibly hard to come by.
Thanksgiving? Yeah, right. My dog is gone. My mom is gone. My joy is gone.
I knew I had things to be thankful for. A million of them, maybe more. I didn’t mean to be ungrateful. But somehow I still couldn’t find my way out of the darkness. It was that deep, down, dirty, ‘can't pick yourself up by your bootstraps cause you can’t even find your boots’ kind of low.
Stay with me...this gets better.
For whatever reason, one late November afternoon, I went to the MSPCA's website. And with a deep breath, clicked on the list of adoptable dogs. Looking back now, I don't know why on earth that happened. It was like a spirit took over my soul for a moment and took me there on its wings (and if you've read my Donovan stories, you know who I figure that must have been). The animal communicator I talked to after Donovan died said that he wanted us to love another dog, and to do it sooner rather than later. But I hadn't begun to even toy with that idea. I couldn't possibly.
Except, that website.
Falling for Possum
I prayed I wouldn't see a dog with a story I couldn't turn away from. But there she was.
Her name was Possum.
I learned she was a 15 year old Rat Terrier/ Shiba Inu mix. She was a stray. And, the website said, while she wasn’t currently in any pain, they knew that she was dying. Cancer. She was looking for a hospice home - for the holidays, and for whatever time she had left. She was smiling. She was wearing a beautiful velvet holiday collar. She looked hopeful.
And so, it began.
Could we be that home?
My head started spinning, Having just lost Donovan, was I prepared to knowingly lose another dog so soon? Were we? Was I wanting to do this to save Possum or myself? Or both? Whatever the reason, at the end of the day, was it truly the right one for Possum?
I sent an email. And I only fell more in love with the thought of bringing Possum home when I read what the shelter had to say. While hoping maybe a better family would come along and beat me to it, I made arrangements to go meet Possum the day after Thanksgiving.
I talked to my husband. He kept saying ‘if you really want to do it, go ahead’. But I could tell this was, right now, more my campaign than his. I knew, with absolute certainty, that this had to be a team decision. Both of us had to be 100% on board.
And the thing is, we weren’t.
Finally, he revealed he simply wasn’t ready. Which took guts. And courage. Donovan’s loss was still too raw, too close. But if I was ready, if I really wanted to do this, because he loved me, he’d try to make a go of it.
And in that moment, his truth served to unearth mine.
I knew, if I was honest with myself, I probably wasn’t ready either. And that meant Possum deserved better than what we could provide.
To join our family, at that point, would have meant coming into a world of loss, and pain, and sadness - all of which was still so achingly acute. Possum deserved (all of us deserve) to have each day filled with love, and joy and comfort. Without the ghost of another dog’s loss lingering at her side. Yes, I thought. It’s true that Possum was currently living in a shelter. But this one was an absolutely beautiful place. It was a place clearly filled with kindness, where every dog, cat, bunny, bird, pony, pig or lizard was being given whatever time they needed to find a home. A place that was warm, clean, and safe - filled with staff who offered boundless love and impeccable care. A place that, by any measure available, was clearly worlds better than wherever she had been before.
I still had the money I’d gathered to put towards her adoption fee. I’d promised to visit. So I gathered myself as best I could, and made the hour-long ride to the shelter. I didn’t really know what to do. It seemed cruel to walk in and say I couldn’t take her. home. But I wanted, somehow, to try to make a difference for Possum.
I wept all the way there. I was still crying when I walked into the lobby and got in line to speak to a staff member. It was crazy that day - Black Friday. Some people were surrendering pets (I kept thinking that if it had to happen, at least they were starting a new life with people who would love and care for them). Some people were buying supplies and holiday presents (the proceeds of which benefit the shelter). And, happily, lots of potential adopters were meeting new friends who would soon become family.
And there I stood amongst them. Holding nothing but my purse.
I can only imagine how lost and distraught I must have looked in that crowd. But I waited my turn. I walked up to the desk. And that’s when I met Mike.
It all tumbled out at once. I tried to explain about Donovan. I tried to explain about Possum. I tried to explain why because of Donovan I couldn’t save Possum. But I’m sure the story came out sideways and a thousand kinds of crooked. I don’t know how he even followed what I’m sure didn’t make much sense, but - with patience and professionalism - he did. Mike listened without judgement. He smiled warmly, and told me that it was going to be okay. That I was not failing Possum. That she had a full belly and a warm bed. That she was loved dearly and had lots of people in her corner - as we spoke - trying to give her the very best life. And he said that if I still wanted to donate her adoption fee, he would make sure it would go towards making her life better. Some of the details in my mind from that day are fuzzy - but I think he mentioned she’d need some work done on her teeth to help make eating more comfortable, and that the money I could offer would help with that. Since dental health had always been a challenge for Donovan, that seemed like a pretty perfect fit.
We finalized the details, and I gathered up my things. Would he let me know, I asked, when Possum was adopted? Yes, he said. He promised that he would. And he told me, again with such deep compassion, that - when I was ready - he’d be honored to help us find, and adopt, another dog.
With my spirit a little bit lighter, I turned and headed home.
A few days later, I got an email.
In it was a picture of Possum, curled up and blissfully asleep in the arms of the little boy whose family had adopted her. She was - with sparking clean teeth and her very own happy ending- indeed home for the holidays.
And you wanna know what makes this story even sweeter?
Turns out, in Bakersfield, California, at almost this same time, another little shelter dog was about to finally catch a break.
With the love of some amazing people, a truly beautiful girl who could hardly see through the matts in her formerly curly brown locks, was about to have her life changed forever.
And mine was about to change too.
That dog, of course, was Cosette.
In February, 2017, Coco came home to Gloucester. Just as Possum found her perfect family, we too found our perfect dog. With the gift of time, and the encouragement of Donovan’s loving spirit, we were finally ready to open our hearts once again.
And while we didn’t need Mike’s help after all, I remain so very grateful for the offer. :)
The Grace and the Gratitude
What’s to be learned from this? So many things, I think. And if you’ve read this far (god love you) you may have some thoughts on that matter too. But having lived this story, remembering sweet Possum and looking at my dear Cosette - curled up in the pillows, snoring on the couch beside me - mostly I just find so much gratitude.
And so much of that glorious balm we call hope.
When you least expect it, the most complicated things work out. When you need it the most, people selflessly offer you an unending supply of compassion, and of kindness. When you fear you are out of ideas, turns out there is always a way to help, even if you sometimes have to get a little creative to make the magic happen. I had a little money to offer this time around but know that sometimes donating your time, energy, or skills can make even more of a difference.
And when you think there is no one who could possibly understand, you meet a man named Mike, who does. And who gives you hope that you can make a difference after all.
Hope. And the deepest gratitude.
To Donovan, Possum, and Cosette.
To Mike. To the MSPCA. To the IWS Rescue team.
To my husband.
And to all the wonderful folks who make this world a more beautiful place for all of us to share.
Thank you. Thank you so very, very much. :)
Wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving!
The MSPCA at Nevins Farm is a truly wonderful place. If you want to volunteer or donate, you can find out more about them here:
Note: The photo of Possum is the one I first saw, and fell in love with from the MSPCA's website. I don't know who took it, but am trying to find out and will happily credit the photographer when I find them. It's a beautiful shot that captured her spirit so perfectly. Kudos...it clearly made lots of us want to help that beautiful little dog.