Nearing the lake on that warm September morning, I heard a tiny mewing sound. My first inclination was to ignore the cries. I've been through enough lately, I thought; I can hardly take care of myself.
Three months earlier, at age thirty-seven, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Because the cancer was in more than one place, the doctor had recommended a radical mastectomy. It was scheduled for later that same month. I still remember the shock and denial I felt when I overheard my husband, Gary, telling someone on the phone, "She's probably going to lose her breast." Those words seared through me like a knife. No. No! I cried silently to God, I'm too young for that.
A few weeks later, while I was recovering from the mastectomy, the surgeon called with more bad news; "The cancer has spread to your lymph nodes. Chemotherapy offers the best chance for survival." All I could do was sit there stunned, thinking, Oh God, I'm going to die.
The Fear of Dying
I was terrified of dying. Many of my friends draw comfort from their beliefs about the afterlife or reincarnation. But I had trouble blindly believing in things I couldn't see or touch. I wanted proof. I prayed to God to show me the truth about death.
With the fear of dying in my heart, I decided to take part in an aggressive clinical trial that included a combination of high-dose chemotherapy and a five-year follow-up with a hormone blocker. The chemotherapy wiped me out completely. Even with the anti-nausea drugs, I was sick every time.
Two months into the treatment, it was all I could do to get dressed and keep a little food down every day. In addition to working, my husband was doing his best to care for the house and me. Wonderful as he was, it was hard on both of us. I was irritable and lonely most of the time. This short walk to the lake was my first time outdoors in a while.
Meow! Meow! The insistent pleas continued.
No, I really can't care for an animal right now, I thought as I passed by. Suddenly, ear-splitting shrieking and squawking filled the air. Four blue jays were dive-bombing the bush where the mewing sounds were coming from. Shooing the birds away, I ran and looked under the bush.
Standing on wobbly legs was a tiny, three-week-old orange tabby, with bright blue eyes, mewing his little head off. Gathering him up into my arms, I headed to the lake in hopes of finding his owner or convincing someone else to take him home.
The wind whipped all around us as the shaking kitten cuddled close, still scared to death. We sat together by the lake trying to find him a home. After asking a number of people and finding no takers, I decided to take him home temporarily until I could find him a home of his own. Still feeling exhausted from the chemo, I spent most of the day on the couch with the little kitty curled up on my chest purring.
Later that evening, as my husband was leaving to go to a meeting, I asked him to take the kitten with him. "Try and find him a good home," I said, placing the kitten in a box. Little did I know, my heart had already been stolen.
An hour later, I beeped my husband. "Have you found him a home yet?" I asked.
"I was just giving him to someone," Gary replied.
"Don't," I said without hesitation. "Bring him home. I need him."
When Gary and the kitten returned home, the little orange tabby curled right back up on my chest like he'd never left.
For the next week, while I was bedridden, Dharma and I were constant companions. He just loved snuggling, sometimes trying to get right up under my chin. He didn't even notice my lack of hair or uneven chest. It felt good to love and be loved so unconditionally.
Everything Has A Purpose
I chose the name Dharma because in India it means, "fulfilling one's life purpose." Cancer research has shown that finding and following one's bliss or purpose supports the immune system and increases chances of survival. For me, I hoped this would include my two deep-seated desires: writing and being of service to others. Dharma's name reminded me of that intention and so much more.
As a result of chemotherapy and the hormone blockers I would soon be taking, childbearing was out of the question. My husband and I had been trying to have children for years, but now it was final: we could not have children. My heart was heavy, suffering so many losses at once. Dharma licked my tears and helped bring out the nurturing side of me.
Arriving home from my biweekly doctor visits, I immediately picked him up like a baby and carried him around the house with me. I even carried him to the garage while I did laundry. We were inseparable. With Dharma around, I wasn't so needy and grouchy with Gary. And boy, did Dharma purr loudly! It was so comforting hearing and feeling the love he expressed so freely.
As he grew fighting, biting, and clawing furniture became his favorite pastimes. We have a fenced-in back yard, so when he got too wild for me, I would let him go out back to play.
Dharma also loved chasing butterflies. Last spring, I planted purple Porter's Weed specifically to attract them. The whole backyard, with its multitude of colorful butterflies, was one big playpen for Dharma. I don't think he ever caught any, but I spent countless afternoons sitting on the back porch watching Dharma live his bliss. So free. No cares. My spirit soared as I watched him live his life so fully, and decided it was time that I do the same.
Late that December, I scheduled my final reconstructive surgery and let my office know I would be back to work in February.
Then, three days after my final surgery, the unthinkable happened. Escaping from the backyard, Dharma was hit by a car and killed instantly. My life, too, seemed to end at that moment. I was devastated, and no one, not even Gary, could console me. I sat there on that same couch where Dharma and I had shared so much love and cried and cried for hours. "Why, God, why?" I asked in desperation. I wanted to turn back time and never let him outside. I couldn't accept that he was gone. It just wasn't so. With all my might, I willed it not to be so. And still it was so.
Finally, Gary asked, "Do you want to see him?" Although I had never wanted to see a dead animal in the past, I answered, "Yes." Gary then wrapped Dharma in a towel and placed him in my arms. I held him and wept. We decided to bury him in the backyard by the Porter's Weed.
While Gary dug the hole, I held Dharma one last time, telling him all he meant to me and how much I loved him. I thought back on all the gifts he brought me in the short time he was with me: unconditional love, laughter, a playful spirit, a reminder to live fully, and a sense of my life's purpose.
My husband said, "You know, I believe Dharma was sent by God to help you through a very rough time. Now that you're through the worst of it, it's time for Dharma to move on and help someone else."
"Do you really think so?" I asked, wanting so badly to believe it was true.
"Look at the timing," Gary said, "You hadn't been to the lake in months and the one day you venture out, you find Dharma blocks from our house in dire need of help, and in rescuing him, you get rescued as well. He was your little buddy just when the chemo side effects were at their worst. When your immune system was so weakened that you couldn't be around people, Dharma was there. He stayed in bed with you all week that first week when you were so sick. Then, as you got better, he became more playful and brought you hours of smiles and joy. And now, literally days after your final surgery, when you are well on your road to recovery, he's gone. All of this can't be a coincidence. There's definitely a reason he was put in your life when he was and also taken out when he was. He was your little angel."
"Thanks," I said, letting my husband's healing words wash over me.
There Is Nothing To Fear
Watching Dharma lying so peacefully in my arms, I got the much-needed answer to my prayers about death. I realized that he would go on in me forever, the same as I would in the lives of everyone I touched.
I believe Dharma gave his life so that I might know peace. When Dharma died, I was awakened spiritually. I am no longer afraid of dying. Through Dharma, God showed me there is nothing to fear. There is only peace. And love.
We buried him at the foot of his butterfly bush and on his headstone I wrote, "Dharma -- My Little Angel." Now, whenever, I sit on the back steps, I see Dharma chasing butterflies for all eternity.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Capital Books, Inc. ©2001.
Letting Your Heart Sing: A Daily Journal for the Soul
by Deborah Tyler Blais.
About the Author
Deborah Tyler Blais leads transformational workshops and lectures around the country on a variety of spiritual topics including "Letting Your Heart Sing as Means to Wellness" Her story, "Dharma" was published in Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul. A native Floridian, Ms. Blais currently lives in Hollywood, Florida, with her husband Gary and is passionately devoted to inspiring and motivating others to create lives filled with joy, peace, and abundance.