"Can I give you a hug? I saw everything." I had never seen this woman before. She was a total stranger, but I ran to her anyway. She held me as I sobbed, too stricken with grief to say anything.
This was the Friday of Labor Day weekend in front of CityVet at Park and Preston. At around 11 a.m., it was already hot outside and my hair was stuck to my face and neck. What this woman had seen was me and a helpful vet tech get my beloved dog, Penny, out of my car and carry her into an exam room where she would lay until my ex-husband could get there to say his last goodbyes. I had gone back outside to shut my car door and get my purse out of the front seat when the woman called out to me.
I don't remember much other than the warmth of her embrace and the compassion in her eyes that told me she, too, had experienced a profound loss like this. She asked me how old Penny was. "Ten," I managed to say. She said, "Long time. She had a good life." She hugged me again and let me cry for another minute or two. She cried with me. Then we went our separate ways.
What I didn't get to tell her was that Penny, my beloved basset hound/bloodhound mix, had died in my arms minutes earlier in my garage. That I had wrapped Penny in her favorite quilt, loaded her into the back seat of my car and driven to the vet in shocked silence.
I didn't get to tell this kind stranger that Penny was my very best friend for 10 years. That Penny's favorite season, fall, was upon us. That when temperatures dropped to 60 degrees and the wind picked up, she turned into a most lovable maniac ... running, jumping, barking all day long. I didn't get to tell her how much Penny loved squeaker toys and that every evening at 7 sharp she picked one up and squeaked it for a solid half hour.
I didn't get to tell her that Penny had been diagnosed with cancer exactly five weeks before this hot, late-August day. That I was devastated when the vet told me I had two months, tops, left with her. That she has two brothers at home who don't know where she is.
Most importantly, I didn't get to tell this woman, this lovely stranger, that her kindness and generosity were exactly what I needed in that moment. That she restored my faith in the human spirit after a very difficult year.
Two months later, I still struggle with losing Penny. There is an emptiness in this house that may never go away. Penny's ashes live on my nightstand, her collar in the drawer. Her brothers sleep beside her every night. My 4-year-old daughter says Penny now lives on the moon and flies a rocket ship. It's a fitting description, actually.
To the woman who hugged me that day, I am forever grateful for your kindness. You were the angel I needed, likely sent by Penny herself. I will never forget you.