When the Worst Thing Happens After a Really Bad Thing Has Happened But, Oh, You’re Still Alive and Also Your Dog Loves You

Alternative title: Happy anniversary to us, Ruby-Mae!

Marla Rose
8 min readApr 13, 2022


“The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

To tell the story of Ruby-Mae and what she has meant to me, this 8.3-pound heart healer, I’d have to go back to before she was born. I’d have to start, really, on the last day of February of 2019, when my husband was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia to get my heart ready for the specific healing it needed.

I’d have to skip through white-knuckling to make this story readable. I’d want to not linger on the challenges of that time because I like having it in the rearview mirror and also I don’t want to sound self-pitying as I know how very lucky we were and are. But I will suffice it to say it was a year-and-a-half of hospitalizations, doctor’s visits, blood transfusions, picking up and sorting medications, flushing John’s CVC line, quarantining for a hundred days, emergency room visits, re-hospitalizations, doing laundry every day, grudging rendezvous at 3:00 in the morning with the anxiety I managed to put off during daylight hours, that heart-in-my-throat panic when I’d hear a noise that could have been John falling in the other room as soon as I’d found a few minutes to check my email and update family.

To paraphrase Dickens loosely and perhaps self-indulgently, it was the worst of times, it was the worst of times...

Through it all, there was Romeo, our nine-year-old poodle mix. Even when I could not have been more stressed out and worried, I didn’t mind taking Romeo for walks, not even when it was freezing, not even when I was thoroughly enervated. Walking with Romeo meant I had a few minutes to turn off my brain and move one foot in…