The fox started coming every day after Carole died. It was the strangest thing. One minute we were making buttermilk pancakes in the morning and then, in an instant, Carole was gone.
She woke me at 3am and said she was having trouble breathing. I fumbled for my cell phone and called. People came and in a blur I was at the hospital. Bright lights. Noise. Confusion. No one could tell me anything. Finally they let me in to see her.
“How’re you doing, babe?” I held her hand.
“Oh, John. I’m so sorry. I thought we’d have more time. Now, you promise me. Water the flowers in the patio garden. Keep up with your art. It’ll keep you sane. And make sure you feed her.”
“Feed who?” I asked my beautiful wife. My love. My everything, who was slipping away before my eyes.
“You know who. I named her Eloise, after my grandmother.” She leaned back on her pillow, fighting to breath.
God I loved her. No one ever prepared me for this. How do you say goodbye to the love of your life?
“Babe, who are you talking about?” I caressed her face.
“The fox, honey. I named her Eloise. Don’t you remember? She used to play with Troy.” Troy was our German shepherd. He passed away last year. The most gentle dog you’d ever meet. He’d play with all the wildlife. It’s like they knew he was harmless. A gentle soul.
“Oh yeah, I’d forgotten. You named her ‘Eloise?’ That’s perfect. She’s a beautiful fox. Very elegant and athletic.” I looked deeply into Carole’s eyes. “This is so hard. I love you so much.”
She closed her eyes and grabbed my hand. “Oh John, this is life. We’ve had so much. We’ve been blessed. I’m so sorry we don’t have more time. Promise me you’ll stick with your art. You do beautiful work. Promise me you’ll keep moving people with your creativity. And remember to feed Eloise.”
And then she looked at me and said, “Feed her, John. I don’t know why, but she’s special to me. Feed my little fox.”
I told her I would, even though I didn’t understand.
Carole fell asleep after that and never woke up. She seemed fine but then cancer can be deceiving. We had a beautiful service and at the reception there were many people who talked about my Carole. So many nice things were said. I did my best to be gracious, but I was dying inside.
Death takes a part of us when it steals the ones we love.
I awoke the next day, early. My sleep was fitful and I felt tired.
Brewed and poured a cup of coffee. Made my way onto the back deck and settled into one of the Adirondacks. The air was crisp and a breeze washed over my face. It was peaceful.
There was a light dusting of snow on the ground. Everything was pristine and crisp and fresh. And that’s when I saw her. She crept out of the brush like a Kabuki theatre actor. Stealthily, silently and with an elegant grace in each footstep. Her tail was full and her eyes were bright. She was absolutely beautiful.
Just like my Carole.
I remember asking Carole why the fox was so important to her. I mean, there had been other wildlife that visited our home over the years. Rabbits, coyotes, birds, deer. But for some reason the fox touched Carole.
She told me: “I read once about a fox cub that was trapped in a snare for two weeks. He should have died, but he didn’t. Do you know why? Because his mother brought him food every day. When he was rescued he was injured and in pain. But he was also chubby.”
I held her hand. “Wow, that’s amazing.” I smiled at her. She reached out with her other hand and said, “John, when you go to bed at night you’re going to dream. You’re going to be sad and lonely and maybe scared. Just like that fox cub in the trap. But here’s the deal. I’m going to come visit you. In your dreams. I’m going to be there for you. Just like that mother fox. I’ll take care of you, honey. In your dreams. Don’t ever forget that.”
I never did forget that. In fact, the morning after Carole’s fox came by to visit, I started leaving little treats in the backyard. I dragged the Adirondack chair out to the rear yard. I’d make coffee in the morning and get up early. I’d cook sausage and bacon and take it out with me.
Soon, Carole’s fox started coming every morning. Over time, the fox became more comfortable with me. She’d come closer and closer. Sometimes, I could hold the bacon in my hand and she’d eat it.
Yesterday was Carole’s birthday. I got up early and cooked some bacon and sausage for our little fox. But then I fell asleep in the backyard. I was feeling sorry for myself the night before and drank too much wine. So I was a bit hung over and fell asleep in the Adirondack chair.
I’ve never been a superstitious man or given to religion. But I always sensed that maybe, just maybe, there was more to life than met the eyes. Still, I never dwelled on it.
That early morning of my wife’s birthday, as I lay asleep in the rear yard Adirondack, something amazing happened. I was dreaming and Carole was facing me. She held my face in her hands, and she told me that everything would be okay. And then she leaned in to kiss me. I felt her soft kiss on my lips.
When I awoke there she was. Eloise. The little red fox. Licking my face. She had eaten the bacon and sausage I left. I guess she wanted to thank me.
Or maybe it was Carole. Maybe she found a way. Through the fox. To reach out and reassure me.
Just like that mother fox who took care of her pup, when he was trapped.
Because I was trapped, too. Trapped in an ocean of grief. Until I awoke with that fox licking my face.
And I knew. I knew that everything would be alright.
Now, whenever Eloise visits, I feed her and we hang out. She’s as beautiful as my wife. She brings me peace.
She taught me to be thankful. She helps me understand that Carole will always be with me, and that love is the most powerful thing in the universe.
(Originally published at JohnPWeiss.com.)