By Monica Vest Wheeler
Do you subscribe to the theory that life is NOT a dress rehearsal? We get one chance … but that doesn't mean we can't practice a little along the way … with the animals.
Though I never saw the movie "Dr. Doolittle," I didn't need a degree to talk to the animals. I'm a cat whisperer, dog whisperer, horse whisperer … whatever of God's creatures will lend me an ear. I talk to them in bed (my cats Gabriel and Bling), at my friends and family (dogs and cats), in a field alongside a country backroad (the horses … only because I can't have one of my own …)
For much of my life, I've had this deep fear of "bothering" people when I really need them the most. My journals overflow with endless entries on how I wish I could reach out to someone at a particular moment, but I always came up with a reason on THEIR behalf why I shouldn't bother them … they're too busy, they've got too much on their plate, they don't need one more problem (me) …
I didn't have pets as a child, so my stuffed animals became my confidants. When I got married and my own home, I finally adopted a cat and have been addicted to them ever since. It took me a lot longer to seek the consolation of dogs after being bitten by a neighbor's bulldog when I was a little kid. I still remember my dad throwing me up on his shoulders to save me … And now I love dogs, too.
After my dad unexpectedly passed away in Indiana before Christmas, I was away from my cats for nearly nine days. When I returned to my own bed, my babies curled up with me as I tearfully whispered how my life had been shattered in an instant. I confided:
"I just don't care anymore. I have nothing left to give anyone. Babies, does that make me selfish?"
"Listen, Mommy," Gabriel said, "you are not selfish. You just need time to heal."
Bling chimed in, "Remember what you tell all those caregivers, that they need to step away for a little bit and focus only on themselves. It's not selfishness. It's necessary for their own survival. They need to hear that, and they listen when YOU tell them because you believe it. You teach them how to believe it for themselves. And you need to tell yourself that you deserve to survive, too, Mommy."
I shook my head. "I don't want to be strong anymore. I'm too tired to be strong."
Gabriel nuzzled my nose. "You tell those survivors of stroke and traumatic brain injuries how they can and will pick themselves up because they're much stronger than they'll ever give themselves credit. You know it's true because you've witnessed their strength and triumph after tragedy and disappointment."
Bling said, "Yeah, Mommy, you're a cheerleader and not a fakey one."
Wiping tears, I looked at my little girl. "Did you just say flakey?"
She tilted her head. "Well, you are flakey at times, but you're not a fake. No one believes in the power of the human spirit more than you do. You know people can recover and come out stronger if they look beyond themselves, even at their weakest moment, when they give themselves permission to truly embrace life."
Gabriel's paw rested atop my hand. "Don't forget that you're only human, Mommy. You don't have to be superhuman. There will be losses in life, but you have to go on. That's what life is. You tell others that they don't have to go through the pain alone. You help them. It's time to take your own advice. You're NOT a bother."
Bling added, "It's okay to tell someone you're hurting. And that's how you heal by revealing the pain. You know it's true. You can't heal when you bottle up the pain and fear. You've seen those people who destroy themselves and others by putting up walls. Look at how many walls you've knocked down all because you've asked the right questions and simply listened."
Her brother peeped, "You need to feed souls and hearts and minds because they're hungry for the truth of life. Your daddy is right here beside you and his cheers are echoing in heaven. I can hear them. Can you? Oh, I forgot that we cats have special hearing."
Bling said, "You can go on. You will go on. You have so much more work to do."
I smiled. "It will be better after I get some sleep."
Gabriel stretched. "Before you go back to sleep or feed anyone else, can you refill our food bowls first?"
Yep, I'll work up the courage to tell all this to human beings … soon, very soon …