Because of You, I Am is an exploration into the nature of the spiritual world. With courage, insight and humor, Mary Ann Bumbera reveals a deeper unseen reality that we are all part of but rarely consider.
Faced with the illness of her dog, Charlie, Mary Ann races to understand the nature of death. Is death really the end? Is this all there is? Do we have a spirit? Over time while Charlie's illness worsens, Mary Ann discovers that there is far more to our existence than just the physical body, whether animal or human. She shares and celebrates her discoveries with readers; affirming that death is not the end for any being.
Stepping into unfamiliar territory, Mary Ann ventures into the ancient practice of Shamanism, energy healing and animal communication, which deepens her relationship with Charlie. She swims with humpback whales and dolphins, and experiences a profound connection.
Through her search she utterly transforms her understanding of Charlie, herself, and the nature of reality, including both death and life. She concludes nature in all its forms has a spirit or consciousness that is intelligent, benevolent and loving, and that is not extinguished following the death of the physical body.
The ideas in Because of You, I Am will linger long after you finish it. You will come away with a deeper connection to your spiritual self, to others in your life, and to animals, whether they are beloved pets or those found in nature. And you will have a better understanding of the mysterious power of love that transcends death.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.48(d)|
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Because of You, I Am
A Spiritual Quest with Man's Best Friend
By MARY ANN BUMBERA
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2013 Mary Ann Bumbera
All rights reserved.
Tears prickled my eyes.
The compassion in my veterinarian's eyes spoke what she was not saying.
"Am I ready for this?" I asked in a choked whisper.
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "We've found something on Charlie's X-ray."
Her words, gently spoken as they were, slammed into my heart like a razor-sharp javelin. Charlie, my twelve-year-old black standard poodle, was not only the love of my life, but also my best friend, protector, and healer. With no children of my own, he was also a surrogate child. No, I could never be ready for this.
It had all begun a few nights before, when I'd been awakened in the middle of the night by a short, dry cough from Charlie. There was nothing the least bit alarming about the cough itself, as he'd had no previous respiratory health issues. But in the seconds it took me to reach a fully wakeful state, my intuition told me something was wrong. So when I called the veterinary clinic the next morning requesting an appointment for a chest X-ray, I played up the coughing. I knew they wouldn't agree to a chest X-ray simply because Charlie had coughed once in the night.
"Yes, he's had the cough off and on for a couple of weeks now," I lied.
Even though I knew my open-minded vet, Dr. Pat, welcomed intuitions, I suddenly doubted myself and was reluctant to say that I had a hunch something was wrong. I didn't want to look foolish if everything was okay. Hanging up the phone, I wondered just how silly I'd been for making the appointment because of one measly cough. Charlie's recent blood tests had been fine and he showed no other signs of ill health.
As I sat alone in the exam room the next day, waiting for Charlie to be X-rayed, I continued to berate myself, feeling ridiculous for wasting everyone's time.
But when Dr. Pat came in carrying the X-rays in her hand, I saw the heaviness in her face and felt my world start to crumble. After placing Charlie's X-ray on the lighted screen, she pointed to a mass in his right lung.
"Because of the location, it's not possible to biopsy or aspirate with a bronchial scope," she said. "The only way to tell what kind of mass it is, or determine if it's cancerous, is to perform major thoracic surgery, which would not only be hard on Charlie but would be too drastic at this time."
"So ... what ..." I searched for words.
"So let's wait," she said with a more hopeful look on her face. "Let's wait a few months and do follow-up X-rays. There aren't any other lung masses present so it may not be cancer. Let's hope for the best."
I prayed it wasn't cancer. I couldn't imagine my life without Charlie. I tried to stay positive. But anguish settled in my heart.
My Charlie Boy
I can't remember a day of my life when my family didn't have a standard poodle—a black standard poodle. Admittedly I'm biased, but I think their intelligence, good nature, and beauty make them an exceptional breed. I have had other breeds—including mixed breeds—and still I love standard poodles the best. Both my mother and I have always preferred the black ones. I don't know why. We just do.
I was well into adulthood and recently married when the bundle of curly black fur, otherwise known as Charlie, came into my life. It was a newspaper ad that had caught my eye. It simply said "standard poodle puppies" and gave a phone number. The mere sight of the words—standard poodle puppies—made my heart squeal with child-like glee. But I was still mourning my standard poodle, Ralph, who had just died, and I decided I wasn't ready. Nevertheless, I couldn't bring myself to throw out the ad and placed it on the kitchen table. For the remainder of the afternoon it was as if the ad had bewitched me; I repeatedly returned to the kitchen to glance at it.
I found myself daydreaming, imagining the puppies jumping in my lap, clamoring for attention. I could almost feel the soft pads of their little feet on my legs, their spongy tongues licking my face with their pungent puppy breath. Needle-sharp teeth nibbled at my hands and feet. And they were, of course, black. But ... wait a minute ... what if they weren't black? I grabbed the ad and dialed the number.
Eight weeks old, the woman told me.
"What color are they?"
I hung up. In record time, my index finger punched in my mother's number.
"Well, are you going to get one?" she asked excitedly.
"I don't know. I'm not sure I'm ready yet."
After hanging up, I curled up on the couch, plunging into grief over Ralph. Would I ever be able to forget that sick feeling in my gut when I signed the paper for the veterinary school to euthanize him? How could I live with the regret of letting the vet talk me out of being with him when they did it? Would I always be haunted by the intense, quizzical look on his face when he turned his head back to me as they wheeled him down the hall to "do the deed"? Who had been with him? Did anyone comfort him or hold him or tell him what was happening? Had he been scared? Had he gone quickly? My only solace, I thought, was that my husband and I had buried him in our backyard.
The peal of the phone nudged me out of my self-reproaching heartache. Wiping my eyes, I picked up the receiver. My mother's jubilant voice rang out.
"Will you go get me one of those puppies?" she said. "I'll get one for you too!"
Her exuberance was so contagious that my heartache faded. A puppy! Suddenly I felt like an elated five-year-old! My mother was going to buy me a puppy!
* * *
A few nights later, my husband and I went to pick out the two puppies. I reveled in the playful little balls of fur tumbling all over me. One of them kept plopping in my lap. Every time I'd put him down to look at the others, PLOP! There he'd be, back again. There was just something special about this persistent, cuddly, sweet little fella who wouldn't leave me alone. And so Charlie entered my life. Little did I know at the time that he would change my life so profoundly.
Charlie instantly became a mamma's boy. His registered American Kennel Club name was Daz L.M. Charles le Chien. And dazzle 'em he did! Even as a young dog, Charlie's regal presence was noticed by passersby. "Beautiful dog!" people called out everywhere we went. My response was always, "Thank you! He thinks so too!" Charlie accepted these compliments like a title rightly due him and would puff out his chest, with head and tail held high, and strut with an air of sophistication that said, "You think that's beautiful? Well check this out!"
One of my favorite, unique traits about Charlie was that he loved to brush his own teeth. As a puppy, I let him gnaw on his toothbrush in hopes of getting him accustomed to it. This plan worked too well. Surprisingly enough, the beef-flavored toothpaste wasn't the attraction. It was the bristles. Before bed, he would paw at the bathroom cupboard where his toothbrush was kept. I would squeeze out the toothpaste, put the toothbrush on the floor, and Charlie would step on the handle to steady it and ever so gently crunch the bristles. And crunch. And crunch. If I didn't take it away after a minute, he'd have kept crunching until the bristles were gone. And just as any English gentleman knows the proper teatime, Charlie considered bedtime the only proper time at which to brush his teeth. If his toothbrush was offered at any other time of day, he refused. Unless, of course, a houseguest accidentally left his or her toiletry bag open—then their toothbrush was fair game, no matter what hour of day!
As a young adult dog, one of Charlie's trademarks was how he said hello to people. Despite our attempt at training, he stood firm in his belief that the only appropriate salutation for people was to kiss them on the mouth. If we didn't grab him in time, he'd be leaping in the face of some poor unsuspecting guest, startling them with a slobbery kiss. Good thing he brushed his teeth!
Whenever we returned home from a trip, Charlie would stand indignantly by the suitcases, waiting for us to open them. The instant they were unzipped, his head disappeared inside. With the precision of Sherlock Holmes investigating a crime scene, he nosed out the details of our leave of absence. This was also the routine for anything brought into the house—from the smallest shopping bag to the toolbox of the furnace repairman. Anything that entered his house had to be given his sniff of approval. Long before Homeland Security was necessary, Charlie was on the job.
* * *
Over the course of his life, Charlie taught me innumerable profound lessons, beginning with one of the toughest—to listen to what my heart says is right. When Charlie was not quite one year old, I wanted to fence the yard so Charlie could run free, but my husband and I couldn't agree on a type of fencing or the cost involved. In a quandary over other possibilities, I allowed the trainer at the dog obedience school to convince me to use a shock collar to teach Charlie the limits of the yard. She said that the electric shock from the hand-held device was not strong enough to hurt Charlie. And besides, she said, wasn't a little shock, similar to ones used in invisible fencing, better than him getting hit by a car or getting lost? I figured she knew better than I, so I did what she suggested. But it felt wrong.
After a few short sessions, Charlie learned to stay inside the yard. It still felt wrong, but I continued because it seemed to be working. Then I followed the trainer's instructions to "reinforce" his learning. She told me to stand just beyond the edge of the yard and call him to me. If he came out of the yard, I was to give him a gentle zap.
When I called Charlie, he sat there, looking extremely puzzled. He was eager to obey me, yet he knew he shouldn't cross the boundary. When I called him a second time, he happily and willingly bounded toward me. His face was beaming with pride when suddenly he crossed the boundary and ZAP! The shock stopped him in his tracks. The confusion and hurt in his eyes instantly told me that I had betrayed his trust. I realized that training him this way would only harm our relationship. Riddled with shame and guilt, I returned the shock collar to the trainer and deeply regretted not following what I knew was right. I vowed to never again give anyone, professional or otherwise, precedence over what my heart told me. So I settled for a fifty-foot cable dog run so that Charlie could at least stretch his legs and chase a few squirrels.
This hard knocks lesson of learning to follow my heart shifted my perspective of animals in general. All my life I had proudly professed being an animal lover. But this experience zapped me into realizing the sickening truth—that although I did indeed love animals, my social conditioning had allowed me to look upon them as lesser things—property to be owned, dominated, and controlled. Thus, I had been easily persuaded into a harsh training technique by a bad trainer. I vowed that in the future, I would seek only positive reinforcement training instead of training techniques based on pain and intimidation. From it all, I started to see animals as sentient, individual beings—beings who deserve force-free handling and compassion equal to us humans.
* * *
Charlie became my bedrock of emotional support. His loving presence got me through my unhappy marriage and heart-wrenching, though amicable, divorce. In our divorce settlement the question of who would get custody of Charlie was never raised, but I would've relinquished anything to keep him. It was Charlie who got me through that miserable, lonely time, bringing meaning and purpose into my life when I felt I had none. And, being the best cuddler, Charlie always lifted my sprits—no matter what.
Soon after my divorce, I decided to move back to my community of friends in the Chicago area and began my search for a house in the northern suburbs. My criterion for the house was simple: it had to have a manageable fenced-in yard big enough for Charlie to run in, chase squirrels or birds, and call his own. As luck would have it, I found such a yard accompanied by an affordable house that I liked.
* * *
Despite Charlie's endearing traits, he was a handful. As smart, loving, gentle, and affectionate as he was, he was fiercely protective of me. Tollbooths were always a challenge with him in the car. When a toll collector reached out his or her hand towards the car, Charlie erupted in a protective frenzy. I became adept at squeezing my arm through a tiny opening in the window to give or get change. As I sped away in embarrassment, he would stop barking and, pivoting to keep the tollbooth in sight, give one last woof of triumph, then curl up and go to sleep.
I reciprocated in my protectiveness towards Charlie. When I bought my home and installed an alarm system, my spiritual mentor, Ishwar, said, "You got Charlie to protect you and an alarm system to protect Charlie." I opened my mouth to rebuff this ridiculous statement but sheepishly realized that, well ... it was true. I'd just never thought of it that way.
When Charlie was around three years old he became aggressive towards most other dogs, although there were a few he liked. If he deemed a dog as foe, he lunged and barked with the wild ferociousness of a mamma bear protecting her cubs. I couldn't control him at these times and it always took me a while to calm him down. I quickly learned that getting angry and pulling on his leash fueled his frenzy. At the time, positive behavior modification training for dog-reactive dogs wasn't available, or at least I was not aware of it. (Fortunately, it exists today.) Since Charlie wasn't the least bit food-motivated, I relied on other avoidance techniques—such as ushering him in and out the back door at the vet's office. As soon as I saw another dog on our walks, I diverted his attention. Although the avoidance tactics worked, his dog aggression remained a sore spot with me. I hated it when he spun into his barking frenzies and nothing seemed to help him.
Charlie's fierce protectiveness and dog aggression was a mystery to me because he was a quintessential loving, gentle dog. What could be the cause of his aggression? Had I waited too long to have him neutered, perhaps? Was I doing something wrong to make him this way? But when I reflected on when the protectiveness and dog aggression had started, I realized that this behavior had magnified enormously after my divorce. I came to understand that because animals are usually so in tune with their people, the intensity of Charlie's protectiveness directly mirrored the degree of my personal safety issues. He was mirroring my deep-seated anxieties about taking care of myself in the scary, "big, bad world." So while I still needed to work with Charlie on this (and also with myself), at least it made some sense to me.
In other ways, too, Charlie's awareness of my emotions touched and surprised me. Whenever I got wound in a tizzy, usually over something trivial, he jumped on me—sometimes even knocked me down—and licked my face over and over until I laughed. Without fail, this made me see that whatever I had been upset about held no importance in the grand scheme of things. And if I had an upsetting phone call, the moment I'd hang up, he'd be there with his head in my lap or to offer a gentle kiss. Initially, I thought the tone of my voice was tipping him off, but I began to see that even if my voice sounded happy, he still always knew when I needed comforting. At first I marveled at this, but later realized the truth of the matter—Charlie was more in tune with me than I was with myself.
* * *
Charlie was literally my lifesaver. At an exceptionally dark time of my life, within just four months, I suffered a broken engagement, a painful parting of ways with a longtime friend and, worst of all, the death of my best friend. These losses, especially of my best friend, whom I had utterly adored, made my grief unbearable. I pondered suicide. I didn't really want to end my life. I just didn't feel strong enough to endure the searing emotional pain.
One night after returning home from a therapy session that had left me feeling even more depressed and alone, I pulled into the garage and watched the garage door close in my rearview mirror—but did not turn off the ignition. As I sat in the car, wishing that I would die, I thought of Charlie. What would happen to him? Who would take him? Who would cuddle him? Would he be happy without me? It then dawned on me that the carbon monoxide that would kill me could also seep into the house and kill Charlie. I cut the engine.
Excerpted from Because of You, I Am by MARY ANN BUMBERA. Copyright © 2013 Mary Ann Bumbera. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
My Charlie Boy,
The Other Man in My Life,
Moments of Truth,
Encounters of the Animal Kind,
What, Exactly, Is Animal Communication?,
Wings to Soar,
My Animal Teachers,
Tales of Whales,
Prayer and Surrender,
Tales of Whales Continued,
The Shamanic Path,
Dying and Beyond,
All It Took Was a Healing Touch,
The Blinders Come Off,
Dream a Little Dream ...,
More Healing Gifts,
Do We Have Free Will?,