Yes, it certainly was unexpected. After more than two months of caring for her and watching her take her small but steady steps toward recovery, I no longer expected Pepper to die. I don’t believe I expected my little rescue possum to come out of her healing journey as strong as King Kong, but I certainly did not expect her to die after all the progress we’d made together.

But she did die, at my hands, by injection.

For those of you who have been following the story of Pepper, the possum, you may remember that she had returned to my care after being with another caregiver, Beverly, for two weeks.

I could not believe how much I’d missed her while she was gone. I returned to spending evenings with her curled in my lap by the TV where I’d stroke her gently and whisper to her in baby talk. She would look at me with those black-buttons eyes and respond in her own special way, usually by sighing, yawning, or washing her face and tail—and just as often my fingers.

During her days and nights, Pepper slept away her hours in a wooden possum hut in my straw-filled ex-chicken house. I used my TV intimate time with her in the evenings to keep a close eye on how her health was progressing. However, when the actual downhill slide began, I misinterpreted the early evidence completely.

It started one evening as I was holding her—as usual—and she was behaving nothing like usual. Her body was tense. She did not yawn, she did not once clean her sweet face. She tried to hide her head under my elbow and her body felt tense and stiff.

I don’t know why her sudden change in behavior that evening passed over me without setting off any alarm inside my head. I turned to Carter and said, “She’s not wanting this attention anymore. I think she’s coming back to her wild self.”

“That’s good,” he answered and smiled. “It means she must be feeling better all the time.”

When I carried her back to her chicken coop that night, she fought to get out of my arms and trundled clumsily into her hutch. “I’m sorry Pepper,” I whispered to her. “I didn’t I realize now that the cuddling is something I still want, but you no longer need. I’ll give you your space, little girl.”

And so I did. Next evening, I did not bother her in her hutch, beyond poking my nose in to give her medication. I wrote off the fact that she did not eat well the night before, left her fresh food bowl close to the hutch door, and headed back to bed, oblivious. Next morning, Pepper’s food dish sat untouched. She hadn’t eaten anything in two days.

Now, the alarm bells sounded. I picked her up and hurried her indoors. I offered her all her favorite treats: strawberry yogurt with apple juice, a scrambled egg, peanut butter. At each gourmet delight, she would wiggle and huff and act like she was near starved, but turn away from the food after only a bite or two. She felt agitated in my hands, as though she wanted to get away from me, so I set her on the carpet for a moment. My heart skipped when I saw she could not longer move her front legs in any way but to push away from herself. She only looked in one direction. Her back legs had no coordination at all.

Stricken, I cradled her to me baby-fashion, something she had always enjoyed. She gripped my fingers hard with her front paws. Then, suddenly, she sighed and went limp and relaxed in my arms. It lasted for only a moment before she tensed and stretched her body out full length, pushing me away.

Suddenly, I realized that her eyes were pulsing back and forth, back and forth. My breath caught in my throat. Pepper was not returning to her wild self at all. She was having small seizures, a string of them, back to back. Now I knew why she hadn’t eaten. She didn’t eat because she could not keep her face in the dish. It kept jerking out. And I knew, also, why she acted as though she were pushing me away the night before. Her front arms were going rigid in a repetitive motion.

I put her in a carrier and headed off to WildCare. I wanted others at the center to see Pepper and to give me their own take on what was happening to her, and why. My plan was to get Pepper to our wildlife veterinarian for evaluation. I was planning to stop for lunch with a friend first, but of course that never happened.

I imagined that Pepper would be examined, given tests and more medicine, and that we would keep traveling the healing journey together. But somewhere in the course of the next two hours, I would see the situation differently. Pepper was suffering. Her recovery had been small but steady and she had been comfortable, cared for, and loved. Now, she was frightened and flailing. I had no idea when or—if—we could turn her situation around. The chances were terribly small, at best. Meantime, she would be suffering in a way I could not even imagine. How many more hours or days of this could she take?

I chose euthanasia for her as the kindest, most responsible act on her behalf. Her passing was slow and very calm. She relaxed in my arms, sighed, and licked my fingers as soon as we gave her the tranquilizer shot. Possums have a very slow metabolism, and seem to absorb certain medications slower than many other mammals. For Pepper, it meant that she would take nearly an hour to expire in my arms.

It was a profound hour, passing gently and peacefully. Pepper returned to herself again as the drugs kicked in, breathing calmly, yawning, and licking her paws and my fingers. When death called her, she left with a contented sigh.

I have loved and lost many animals in my time. Probably owing to the antidepressants I take, I find that grief over these wildlife losses passes blessedly quickly for me these days. I believe without question that animals do not particularly care if they are in the body or out of it. Their spirits are far more connected to universal consciousness, or God, than we humans, and they can access this connection in or out of physical body. What remains for me in the loss is a usually unconflicted sadness and loneliness at their passing.

And so I my reaction to losing Pepper was completely unexpected. I felt that I had been deflated, or that my batteries had been removed. I went into a state of numbing sadness and sorrow. I felt as though I had lost a life-long friend. It was as though my grandmother had died. And the feeling lasted. It lasts still.  I reflect on the meaning of Pepper coming to me, and leaving me, and I find myself missing her more instead of less as the days pass. Yes, I knew she was a teacher for me. But I had no idea how deep her lessons went.

I can’t stop looking at old photos of her, or stopping in the middle of a day to go sit in the chicken coop where she lived, just to sit with her memory. I put my nose to her last sleeping towels and inhale her musky, comforting scent. I replay her passing in my mind and chide myself for choosing euthanasia. But then I remember her terrified eyes and spastic body, and know in my bones I made the right choice. Right choice or not, I cannot yet find myself a path across the void she has left in my heart.

When I had found Pepper sick and dying in an old leaf pile, I believed she had come to me for comfort and healing. What I find in truth is that she came to me for my own comfort and healing. Many are the ways she touched me in her short life, but many more are the ways she is reaching out to me in her death. I’ll share that in another post, soon, when I can find a way to put these swirling insights and healings to words.

This entry was posted in Stories & Musings, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to UNEXPECTED PART 1

  1. Tony says:

    Susan – I am so very sorry! Many blessings to you and to Pepper! May her Spirit soar!

  2. Bett Weston says:


    My most profound blessings are offered to you and Pepper. I can’t type with the tears in my eyes. Your story conjures up for me the many times when I feel I have failed some small being who came to me for care. No matter how strong our humanely BELIEF that the animals easily slip from body to spirit, I am bereft when I watch a nature program showing a baby critter being killed, or the fawns smashed on the side of the road, or the frog eaten by that cute chipmunk … I feel the loss. I feel the loss. Perhaps “feeling the loss” is our burden for being human.

    As I sit here with these feelings, I notice that I remember the sad times much more clearly than the successes, such as the baby llama who was destined for bottle-raising but I managed to assist her to successful suckling and restore her bond with mama; my first bottle-baby kitten who lived to over 23; etc. Those stories are not blazed in my consciousness with the same fierceness as the ones I deem “failures.” We must do harm to ourselves when we hold these sad feelings so tightly. There’s something to ponder in that.

    Pepper knew LOVE — she did not die alone, she did not die as early as she thought she would. Her leaf pile turned into Heaven. That is success. And you are richer for having loved and been loved by Pepper. My friend and teacher, Betsy, would say that you were not meant to “read the signals”, therefore you did not miss anything. The animal chooses. If she wanted you to do more than you did, the situation would have been different.


  3. Susan, You have written such a poignant and soul-reaching post here. This isn’t just a blog post but a true dedication to Pepper. I hear your pain and know that somewhere, Pepper is grateful and happy for your intervention, you care, you love, your warmth, your concern and ultimately your ability to let go and choose the right path for Pepper. I am sending you healing thoughts and energy to help the pain subside. Indeed you were blessed with meeting such a wonderful teacher. Perhaps this will show others how they can learn from their fellow animals. xxx

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Kathey, I’m only just beginning to understand all that Pepper brought to me. I’ll be pondering her lessons for a long time.

  4. Deb Gillis says:

    Susan, although my heart aches at the passing of your precious little Pepper I feel such a sense of relief knowing she chose you as her companion, she could have passed with her other caregiver but she wanted to be with you. You know it wasn’t selfishness on her part but the loving energy and comfort you offered that drew here to you; you were who she wanted with her as she left this plane. You loved her enough to assist her in her crossing; you put her first even when you knew what the outcome would be – that she would move on and that you would be left without that cute nose, those trusting eyes and that tongue that lapped you in love. I can’t help but feel how blessed you truly are to have the trust of all critters in good times and bad. I know it takes an emotional toll on you but please try to think of it as a gift from the animals – Pepper could have chosen to die alone in the woods and no one would have known which would be the norm but she felt your loving presence and fought to get to you – and to get back to you. She knew her time on this plane would be short but she also knew she had a gift that so many critters will never have (domestic or wild) a loving momma who would do anything for her and who loved her enough to let her go, to be free from a body that had betrayed her. You gave Pepper so much just as you do with all your charges and I know why – because you are a gift not only to the animals but to those of us who you inspire and who aspire to follow your lessons rather than to turn away because there is a threat of pain and heartache. I personally feel much more fulfillment from the trust and love of an animal than from that of most humans because they want nothing more from us than our love and they return it tenfold. They offer us tears yes, but their love outweighs the pain eventually. I will be keeping you and Pepper in my thoughts and daily intentions and praying for peace and comfort for your heart and that each day will get better and that Pepper’s sweet energy will now surround you with her love and keep you company in your dark moments. Be brave, face one day at a time and know that you serve – which is the greatest gift anyone can give. Sending you hugs and loving and positive energy and praying you will have far more happy endings than endings. debbie

  5. Jeanna says:

    One of the most important things I have learned is that healing is not always the same as curing. Pepper may not have been cured, but she was certainly healed. Bless you for your role in that…..

  6. Erin says:

    I send you strength and blessings. Certainly Pepper was blessed to find you at that moment in her life that she needed comfort the most, and to be given the love and care that so many wild things never experience. So sorry for your loss.

  7. Jody Seay says:

    Susan: Again, you put into words what most of us feel in our hearts at the loss of an animal family member. You did the right thing, sending her along to her next great adventure but, even more, in reaching out to care for that little being who needed some fingers to lick and a heart to snuggle close to for a while.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Ah, Jody—I believe that you could put into words far better than me the turnings of the heart. I’ve never met a more gifted writer than you, old friend.

  8. Susan McElroy says:

    Kim, Pepper passed away last Thursday. A candle for her would be so wonderful!

  9. Susan McElroy says:

    Kim, please light Pepper’s candle. She passed last Thursday. And please kiss a ferret for me. I just adore those guys!

  10. susan says:

    Oh, Susan. I am so sorry. What a sweet girl Pepper was.

    We send our love.

    I have used the services of a shamanic animal communicator to help move thru times like the one you are experiencing. http://www.spirithealer.com

    I also highly recommend reading “Animals in Spirit” by Penelope Smith.

    Take care of yourself.

  11. Ann Patton says:

    Oh, Susan, I am so, so sorry for your loss. Pepper was such a special little girl–she met awful challenges with great courage, and your care helped strengthen that courage and determination in that sick little body. You did all you could do, and she did her part to her limit. The Good Angels guided her to you, we all know that. She understood and appreciated everything you did, and probably nothing more than your just cuddling her. And Susan, you are so very, very special, too. I believe all your readers are grieving with you now, sending you love and asking the Universe to give you comfort in every way possible. I know you are suffereing deeply and I just wish I could help you. I don’t know if it helps you, but so many people are in pain with you and sending up prayers for both you and Pepper. I know her soul resides in Heaven.Others here have expressed my feelings so beautifully and meaningfully and better than I, so I will just say to all those messages: “Me, too.”

    So many loved Pepper right along with you and rallied for her recovery. I do believe that it was meant that Pepper would find you and you would give her more love and care than she could ever imagine. I’m so glad that you were with her in her last days; your love and care made her illness and her passing the best possible. Thank you for that. I don’t believe there is anyone who gives so much to animals as you; I’m so happy you can feel happy and rewarded the many times you’ve helped one, saved one…but I am so sorry you have to go through the losses and grief as you do over and over. Thank you for sharing her; she had love and healing sent to her from all of us and I hope she felt it.

    Thank you, Susan, for being such wonderful role model for all of us. I know you have influenced my life in the most positive way. May God and the Univerase bless you and comfort you always.

    Ann Patton

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Ann, thanks so much for your kind words. It is so nice to know that Pepper and I both have such a supportive “family!”

  12. kathey says:

    Huge amounts of love and hugs are coming to you, Susan, from all 4-legged animals, from everywhere in the 4-legged universe. The amount of love and really kind caring that you bestow upon them is known among them well and I know that they honour you for what you do. Be easy towards yourself, Susan, you do so much for these little creatures!

  13. Nancy DiRienzo says:

    Sorry for your loss. She not only inspired you and many of us also. Safe journey, Pepper.

  14. Sally Brechbill says:

    I feel so sad about Pepper’s death, and so sad for you in your grief. She was sent to you for a reason. I so love your caring for these, “the least,” and your sharing these stories with us. Bless you, sweet Pepper, and thank you for what you gave all of us in your short stay here.

  15. Cindy says:

    Hello Susan….

    I still follow your blog…..it’s been a long time since I posted regularly. I was very touched by Pepper’s story! What a precious baby, and what lessons to be learned. The powerful connection we feel to animals is understood my kindred spirits….and we certainly understand all your feelings.

    I am well and happy and on my feet enjoying life to the fullest. Completely blessed, completely empowered and yet, still the student. I love what life has given me and in retrospect I can see everything was for a purpose. I’m sure the insights you will gain from Pepper’s life, and why she came to you, will be ongoing and full of meaning. Heal gently, my friend.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Cindy! So glad to hear from you, and every time I think of your “new life” and your joy, I giggle! How a year changes things! You go, girl!

Share, please!