I remember when I first encountered the little dog named Rosa Parks. In the early spring of 2011, my daughter, Jen, and I had traveled to South Carolina for a visit with my daughter, Kate, and her family. Kate’s house was abounding in small dogs, the result of an unintended mingling of two rescue dogs she had fostered. Every morning, my son-in-law would release them into the back yard, where they would run in every direction, sniffing, exploring and playing. We were charmed! When we left for home a week later, Jen brought two of the puppies along: Archie Bunker and Rosa Parks.
It was later that same spring that my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My sister, Sheila moved into the house to help care for her. I made many trips down to visit Mom through that summer, regretting every wasted or missed opportunity to spend time with her in my whole adult life. We all watched her decline with great sadness. On the second day in August, when a call came in at work, I was sure it was to tell of her death.
Mary grabbed my hand in sympathy, as I picked up the phone. It was my sister, Amy, but the news was not of my mother. My sister, Sheila, had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, in the night. I left work in a daze, left the island that same day, and once again traveled downstate, this time to stay for as long as necessary.
In my mother’s house, the house that we all grew up in, my brother and sisters were gathered. As we mourned one loss and prepared for another, we relived the past with laughter and tears. Friends and family came and went daily, adding to the conversation. It was during this time that Jen arrived, with Rosa Parks.
The little dogs were not allowed in her apartment, under her current lease, and she was struggling to find homes for them. Archie Bunker had gone to live with Jen’s ex-husband. Rosa Parks still had no place to go. In that awful time, broken-hearted, reeling with loss, and stretched to my emotional limits, there were few things I could fix…but I could solve this problem. With hardly a second thought, I adopted Rosa Parks.
She became a lively distraction to all of us over the next few days. My brother, Ted, could often be seen carrying her in his arms through the house and yard. At night, Rosa Parks slept on the sofa with me, ten feet from my mother’s bed. She seemed to know when I was having a particularly hard time, and would snuggle in close. She accompanied me through all the highs and lows of those last days of my mother’s life.
By the time I headed back to my home on Beaver Island, after all the services, rituals and good-byes, Rosa Parks was a part of my family, and had a special place in my heart. She still does!