I first heard the expression a “Forever Home” when I was looking to adopt a cat. The woman who had come to visit and interview me from a local cat rescue organization had said to me across her cup of tea, “If you adopt one of our kitties you will need to promise to give him a Forever Home.” I nodded but secretly I was daunted by the phrase and had the feeling that as an impermanent being myself, I could not live up to such a high goal. But I adopted Cashmere from another rescue organization and so I forgot about her comment.
Eight years later I was walking through my garden trying to choose a place to bury Cashmere. I was having difficulty deciding where to make his grave when from some deep place inside, the memory of her words came back to me. What if I was not looking for a grave, but for a place that would become Cashmere’s Forever Home. I instantly knew where this would be, at the foot of a stunted olive tree that I had planted about the same time Cashmere and I became family. For eight years the tree had struggled to live and whenever I passed it, I felt badly that I had planted it in the wrong place. Cashmere had struggled to live for eight years, too. Perhaps this tree was a kindred spirit that could shelter him and become a part of his Forever Home.
One of the most remarkable things about my cat was his will to live, his ability to find joy in a can of cat food, a nap in the sun or a warm cuddle despite all of his trials and difficulties. Cashmere had his first seizure less than a year after he came to live with me. It had lasted for two days. He was started on one medication and when his seizures broke through, a second medication was added, and when his seizures broke through again, a third. Finally there was simply nothing more to do but set him free.
Grief, like healing, is a process. So is wisdom. A few months after I buried Cashmere I planted a garden for him under the olive tree and searched my yard for stones to make a border around it. Over by the back fence I came upon an irregularly shaped stone, very flat and thin, about the size of a salad plate. Puzzled by its odd shape I picked it up and saw that one side of it was uneven. Looking closer I could see that it had been engraved with words I could not read, so I took it into the kitchen to wash it off. It is now at the center of the little garden. It says:
IF LOVE COULD HAVE SAVED YOU, YOU WOULD HAVE LIVED FOREVER.
I have lived in my house for 25 years but my house is older than that. Many others have called it home and walking this piece of ground I was not really alone. Someone else who had buried a beloved pet here had reached across time to ease my pain and offer me healing. I had kept my promise to Cashmere and made him a Forever Home, not in my garden but in my heart.
It is now many months later and the little tree in Cashmere’s garden has begun to thrive. He has become a part of this little tree and perhaps his joy of living even in hard times has made all the difference.