Sometimes lessons come to us through books, classes or teachers. But sometimes they come bounding through the back door on four furry paws with a wagging tail.
“Bessie’s Story: Watching the Lights Go out” by Newport author Thomas Farmen tells the autobiographical story of lessons he learned through the experiences of his chocolate Labrador retriever as she slowly lost her sight over two-plus years.
Before you bemoan the sadness of such a plight, you should know that Bessie’s story is not one of sorrow, but rather of triumph over adversity, adaptation and a neverending love of life. Farmen, a headmaster emeritus at a Connecticut private school where he worked and lived for 42 years with his wife, Ashley, has told a heartfelt story with “Bessie’s Story” that brings to life the challenges and small victories of caring for a beloved dog on her journey into the dark world of complete blindness.
Part of the family since she was a young puppy, Bessie, at age 4, is diagnosed with progressive retinal atrophy, a degeneration of the retinas that the veterinarian predicts will leave her permanently blind within 12 months. As Farmen and his family cope with the diagnosis and the impending reality for their pet, he hopefully envisions that perhaps she’ll be “a canine Lance Armstrong, beating the odds.”
With supplements and the love and devotion of her family and loyal friends, Bessie does beat the odds somewhat and retains partial vision for more than two years. But it is not a victory without its bumps, bruises and stumbles along the way.
“Bessie’s Story” is full of touching moments shared by man and man’s best friend — although Farmen knows that Bessie really likes his wife, Ashley, best of all — from adaptive ball throwing to hikes, school traditions, building snowmen, paddleboarding and boat rides The humans know what is coming for Bessie, but do their best to keep her feeling safe and secure as she confronts an altered future.
Farmen is also experiencing a great transition period as he nears and completes his retirement during the story’s telling. Through his own confrontation and acceptance of the aging process, his writing beautifully reflects the lessons he learns through Bessie’s process and the admiration he feels toward her for facing every test with grace and determination.
He calls Bessie “my GPS for the coming years of advancing age” and draws inspiration from her constant positive energy and joy, even on days when he knows she experiences fear from the changing world around her. As she looks to her family for steadfast routine, comfort and understanding, he looks to her for lessons in gratitude for life’s small blessings.
As Farmen writes: “I am treasuring this year, this day, this moment. There may not be a next year or a next anything.”
A quick and easy read full of both chuckles and teary moments, Farmen’s enduring love in “Bessie’s Story” shines through above all else. The lessons shine through, too, like the glimmers of light Bessie continues to turn her head toward: “Bessie teaches me: Be where you are.”
Author Thomas Farmen will be signing and discussing "Bessie's Story: Watching the Lights Go Out" Thursday, March 28, at 6 p.m. at The Toadstool Bookshop, 12 Emerald St., Keene. For more information, visit toadbooks.com, call 352-8815 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional local book signings and appearances are planned. For more information, visit bessiesstory.com.