At the beginning of each year, I review the prior year and look for patterns. I revisit my lessons. I see where I have grown and where I could use help. I also do this for every quarter, month, week, and day.
Since 2014 I've been representing the year past with one photograph, along with the story that goes along with it. Every year brings new challenges with this because there are so many gorgeous, connected, life- and love-affirming photographs I have the good fortune to create.
For 2018, this was pretty easy. Despite 2018 being the year I cried the most at work; despite 2018 being the year I connected with more families than I ever have for senior and end-of-life photography; despite 2018 being my best year in terms of skill and ability with a camera . . . it simply comes down to feeling.
My photography students hear me tell them over and over again that photography is more about connection and intention than gear and technical skill. The families I sit down with to plan photographs remark that one of the first things I ask them is "How do you want to feel when you see these photographs?"
This photograph may not mean much to you, and that's okay. I created it for me.
It's dark. The details are hard to see. Someone who didn't know this scene might have to search for what is important.
It's all right there in the middle.
Rhys and I are snuggled on his sofa. This was the week before he died; four days before I began my vigil with him.
Of all the places in our home, this is where Rhys wanted to be. He could see into the kitchen. He could see the front door. He could see who was going upstairs or coming downstairs. He could see the front yard. I have dozens of photographs of Rhys in various stages of rest on the sofa, often tucked under a blanket with his head propped on a pillow.
On this day, I pulled out my camera and tripod, set up my remote shutter release, and photographed us as I told Rhys all of the things I wanted to say. I thanked him for being in our family. I apologized for so many, many things. I marveled at how he changed our lives and would continue to do so. I told him I loved him.
I cried. I hugged. I sniffled. I listened. Oh, listening to his heart - his gentle, erratic heart that was days away from stopping - was glorious. Even with my head on his hip I could hear it.
I felt him. I smelled him. I soaked in every bit of him I could, knowing that this might be one of the last quiet opportunities for this kind of connection.
This is my photograph of the year for 2018 because it is the most impactful for me. I see this and the tears start right away. I usually need to sit down. The emotions I experience are so overwhelming I feel as though I am in this moment again in all the best ways.
That's what photography is meant to do.
You and I, we are lovers. We are givers. We are also the people most likely to be behind the camera rather than in front of it.
There are very few photographs in my collection where I am in the frame. Almost all are from professional photographers I hired for annual family portraits, and a few are from my husband. I knew I had the tools to do something different, and I knew what I wanted to see and how I wanted to feel. I knew I wanted to see me in it, because this love story between Rhys and I is something I've never seen in the third person.
Friend, do not write yourself out of your own history. Be seen. I can promise you that when you look back on these photographs later you might roll your eyes about your wardrobe choices or hairstyle; what you are going to see and feel is the connection you had in that moment. As the years go by and it seems harder and harder to access that connection, you will thank your lucky stars you have photographs to help plug you back in.
I'm counting on it.
What do you do for the dog who has everything?
Design a t-shirt, of course.
While Scoutie the cockapoo wasn't the recipient of this t-shirt design, I like to think he was pleased to see himself in this way. It's like he has a campaign or his own private brand of awesome.
Which, from what I learned about him, seems completely accurate.
Scoutie's human asked me to come up with art for a shirt so she could outfit every member of her family (except Scoutie - he did not receive a shirt). She wanted her family to feel his vibe when wearing their shirts, even when Scoutie wasn't around.
One of the first things she said to me was that he was part king and part clown. What a description! It felt to me like he needed his own brand. He wanted to be recognizable. He wanted to be like the dog version of Coca Cola or Nike. And as dignified and regal as he can be, he's also goofy and a bit rough around the edges.
Viola! A vintage design for his old soul that is simple and breaks down the essentials. I think that's what he would do for himself had he design skills and opposable thumbs. I was on my way to distressing this design for him when he said, "Stop! I like it tidy."
Honestly, what could be better than art you can wear?
If a t-shirt or other logo-like design is just what you need to honor your animal family, please send me an email or a message through Facebook @slobberedlens.
This is one of my favorite photographs.
I remember this day so well. Rhys had run through the morning frost with such joy. His body required that he adjust his gait and he wasn’t as fast as he was in his prime, and yet he moved with grace.
There is a series of photographs of him in the moments before this one where he is running while gleefully clutching a branch (because a stick is too small for a Dane). In some he is completely airborne. What a beautiful thing to see his body move in that way.
For years we associated Rhys with movement. He ran, he jumped, he wiggled. He loved motion.
As motion became more difficult for him, I saw more of what I had been blind to. I saw how much he loved us. Specifically, I saw how much he loved me.
I had seen his love for The Man for years. They had their own thing and we joked that Rhys was The Man’s dog. They were closely bonded.
This look, however . . . this one is all mine.
Here I see everything in our history. Every moment is right here.
This is why connection matters in art, whether it is photography or paint or sculpture or anything else. I feel so many things looking at this. That’s what makes it beautiful.
This is the kind of connection and reverence you already have with your animal family, and this is what shows up in documentary photographs. This is why me sitting with you on the floor and going with what ever is happening is much more valuable than setting up poses and props.
When you are ready for this kind of photograph of your own love, I am ready to give it to you. This is something you deserve to see.
You can start a conversation at email@example.com.
A few generations ago, you would have known the people that sold you things. Like, actually knew them and their families and their histories. If you didn’t know them, you knew someone who did.
It was much easier to make informed purchases because you had a better idea of your vendors and which was the best fit for you.
In the global economy, this is much harder. So many people sell things, and it’s hard to know which person, and which product, are right for you.
These four questions help me make purchasing decisions and I hope they will help you, too.
Do I need it?
The answer to this is usually no, honestly. There are few things in my life I need outside of shelter and nourishment that can be bought. What I am after with this question is how the item will fit into my life.
Do I have a place and space for it? Will I truly enjoy it? How will it enhance my daily life? How often will I use it?
When I stop to think about how something will become a part of my life, it is easier for me to determine if I “need” it.
Do I know the person offering this service or selling this thing?
Is this someone who is known to me (or someone I trust) or am I going in blind? Is this person reliable, responsible, and respectable?
Not knowing someone is not a reason not to buy. It is a reason to investigate further, unless your purchase is small and transactual. When I am considering a big investment, like a house or a car, or a university, or even home repair, I ask my friends and family if they know anyone. That connection inherently eases my mind because I value that connection.
When I don’t know the person, I have big questions about past work quality, reliability, customer satisfaction, and how the person treats others. I assume the best when I don’t know, and yet knowing the person brings peace of mind.
Totally not a reason to abandon ship; an important piece to consider in the big picture.
Do I like the person offering this service or selling this thing?
Because I just don’t wanna work with or support someone that gets under my skin. I also don’t want to buy from someone who lives a life that ideologically conflicts with mine. For example, I wouldn’t buy from a trophy hunter. My first website was with GoDaddy and when I learned that the owner enjoyed game hunting on safari, I dropped my account and found a different host.
Do we value similar things? Is it posssible we could be friends outside of this business transaction? Is this a person I am eager to support? Do I like this person’s style and approach to work? Do I like what this person has already created or delivered?
Do I feel good with this person?
Do you trust the person offering the service or selling this thing?
In marketing courses, businesses learn they need to allow people to know, like, and trust them before purchases happen. True dat.
I follow my intuition and there are many times I have a nagging feeling about someone who otherwise seems just right. Everything looks great, and yet I don’t feel great about it. There is something I don’t trust.
Most of the times I have had that feeling and ignored it, I wish I had honored my gut. I have learned that my body knows what my brain may not, and although I feel judgmental for listening to my intuition at those times, I also see it is for the best. I really want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If my belly tells me something is up that I can’t see, it’s off.
Asking someone to create art of your family is a big commitment. You open your wallet for it, and you also open your history and your memories. It is an intimate space.
You need to feel safe, valued, and secure. You need to trust your artist like you would a dear friend. You are trusting this person with things you may not have shared with others.
The experience of making the art is just as important as the end result, and these questions can help you find a person that feels like a fit for you and your family. If you are searching for an artist and you know that my style or approach isn’t one that suits you, I would be glad to recommend other artists I believe would be your match.
Grief can feel crummy. It is exhausting. It physically hurts. It changes our abilities to make sound decisions. It zaps motivation.
And because we feel so crummy, we also tend to detach from the outside world. We don’t want to be around other people because it doesn’t feel safe. We just don’t know if we will be able to refrain from throat punching the next person who comments that our beloved family members are “just” animals or hints that we should be “over it” and moving on with our lives. It is safer to be home with Netflix. Netflix always understands.
My friend Rachel and I have so much heart for this experience, because we live it, too. My vice is bananas and strawberries (when they are in season) smothered in Wax Orchards Classic Fudge. Oh, my.
Now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t speak for Rachel on the throat punching. She probably has purer thoughts than I.
it feels like a lot of work to keep things bound up and stuffed down because it is, in fact, a lot of work. Finding out one more person thinks your grief is out of proportion, has carried on too long, or is otherwise inappropriate adds a perverse twist to your broken heart. Not only do you feel lost, you also feel misunderstood and sometimes crazy. Crazy because most people tell you how you feel isn’t normal, whether they say that directly or not. Crazy because you erupt into tears when you find a microchip certificate for your beloved cat who died six years ago. Crazy because you aren’t sure how it is possible to love someone so much and feel so conflicted about grief because what you feel and what society tolerates are two entirely different things.
Rachel and I invite you to walk with us in the woods. It is a sacred time to connect with other tender hearted humans and share in a ceremony that honors those we love.
In partnership with Summit Veterinary Referral Center, Slobbered Lens (that’s me) is honored to offer a monthly walk to remember animal family members. Rachel Wright, the lead social worker at Summit, will lead us in a heartfelt remembrance ceremony at 9:30 a.m. At the conclusion of the ceremony, we'll move through the woods of China Lake in the way that feels right. For some people that may be walking alone and through the hilly trails. Others may want to be with a group and share stories while they walk around the lake.
There are no expectations or requirements about how to participate. Just know that you can come to this walk and be with people who can appreciate how your life has changed.
We encourage you to bring a photograph or another item that helps you feel connected. I like to bring my fellas' collars because I enjoy hearing them jingle through the park alongside me. No one needs to see that item, although you are welcome to share if you wish.
This will be a monthly offering, and our plan is to rotate locations so we can experience several natural settings.
I'm saving a big hug for you.
I am a sucker for a good story. I am a sucker for giant dogs.
Maybe I am just a sucker.
This isn’t about me, though. This week I read Lauren Fern Watt’s Gizelle’s Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog. Actually, I read the book over the course of four hours. I mistakenly started it before bed and found I couldn’t sleep until I finished it. That’s one way of saying I recommend it.
This is being a memoir about life with a dog, I think you know how it ends. Gizelle dies. You will probably want tissues handy. The book is 239 pages through the epilogue; I started crying on page 185. It is difficult to read with teary vision, although not impossible.
If you have or currently share life with a giant dog, especially a mastiff, this may have triggers for you. If osteosarcoma has been a part of your life as a caregiver, this may have triggers for you. And an unexpected trigger may be drug and alcohol addiction, which surfaces throughout the book in Lauren’s relationship with her mother.
Lauren's account of life with a gigantic dog was so relatable for me. When she wrote about scrubbing slobber off her walls every day, I understood. When she described the complications of getting ready in the morning while being followed by a 160 lb. dog (especially when said dog comes into the bathroom with you), I got it. Her book read more like a conversation with a friend than a story being told for the sake of telling a story. Her writing is warm, approachable, and sincere.
Here's the rough story.
Young adult receives gift of puppy from her mother. Young adult's relationship with mother is strained due to alcoholism. Young adult goes away to college and leaves massive puppy with family, making frequent visits. Young adult decides to move to New York City and miraculously finds a Times Square apartment that will accept a gigantic dog. Young adult works in fashion to pay the bills, meets a young adult on Tinder she finds attractive, and begins a new relationship. Young adult moves to a new apartment in a new neighborhood with a new roommate. Young adult notices gigantic dog's limp and seeks medical attention, and relocates gigantic dog to live with friends outside of the city where she doesn't need to climb stairs. Young adult learns that her gigantic dog's limp is from osteosarcoma . . .
Woven within is the hilarious story about riding in a canoe with two adults, a spider, and a gigantic dog. There are adventures in pooping in Manhattan. Canine costume contests and mistaken identity at the dog park. Stuff that will definitely bring a smile to your face. Oh, and the photographs. Each chapter begins with a photograph of Gizelle so you can fall in love with her a little more.
This book may have triggers in it for people who have experienced alcohol or drug abuse in a close relationship. The osteosarcoma diagnosis may also be a trigger for humans who have been down that road with a beloved animal.
I thought most of this book would be about Gizelle's bucket list adventures. Nope. That began in Part II: The Bucket List, on page 163. Part I: Enchanted covered the highlights of Gizelle and Lauren, including how they became family, how Gizelle got her name, and their early adventures in moving to New York City. I really, really wanted more stories about the end of life, and the title of the book led me to believe that was a reasonable expectation. That said, I also appreciate Lauren's decision to begin at the beginning so we could all come to love Gizelle in ways that might not have been possible with less history.
When I arrived at page 185, any consternation I had about the book dissolved in one paragraph. One of Gizelle's bucket list items was seeing the autumn leaves turn and fall. We can probably guess that this bucket list was more of a list of things that Lauren wanted to do with Gizelle, and that was just fine by Gizelle because I'm sure what she really wanted was as much time and joy with Lauren as she could get. Anyway, Lauren described a moment when she watched the autumn leaves fall in New England with Gizelle by her side, and she thought about "how something could turn so beautiful right before it went brown and left the world forever." She described Gizelle's joy in wriggling in the leaves and declared that she was "as beautiful as I'd ever seen."
The rest of the book was a sob fest for me. Gizelle's story was lovely and I felt connected with her and Lauren. The more powerful thing for me was reflecting on my own experiences in the end of life. Those days of caregiving in the shadow of a terminal diagnosis. The intensity of the emotions and the exhaustion of the additional care. Ah, it's so much. It is so much and it is so worth it. Every time.
That's what I most love about Lauren's book. This was a journey for her. Gizelle was with her during significant transitions in her life, and darn near everyone I've met with animal family members knows what that is like. Lauren wrote about how she always wrote in her journal while it rested on Gizelle's coffee table of a torso. It's those little things that bind our souls together in ways that words can never fully describe.
There are two other things I want to mention about Lauren's wisdom and vulnerability. First, she wrote about how a moment after Gizelle died she no longer wanted to be with her body. Gizelle wasn't there, and she could feel it. She looked back on the hulking body that carried the one she loved and realized it was only a vessel. The second is tied to that - Lauren's epilogue is about how she carries Gizelle with her. She forever has a place in her heart, and death cannot change that.
Gizelle's Bucket List has a film option, so you might see a version of this on the screen.
You can follow Lauren's current adventures with her expanded family (so cute) on her blog, The Girl & Her Dog Blog.
Our beloved Arden died Sunday, June 24, after a gentle decline. She asked to go outside and wasn't able to get to her favorite place herself. My husband gently scooped her tiny body into his arms and delivered her to the ground beneath her surveillance station. There she drew her last breath.
I had the honor of caring for her body after death, and I prepared a small box with an old towel for the ride to Resting Waters Aquamation, about one hour north of our home. I cut several branches from the shrub that provided the cover for the surveillance station for her adornment.
Resting Waters was absolutely the right place for Arden. I had no doubt. I've come to know the sisters behind his heartfelt service, Joslin and Darci, and knew they would care for Arden as family. Their warm, calm energy is just the sort of thing Arden would appreciate - Arden never knew strangers and everyone she met was someone she was delightfully curious about, especially if that person was interested in marveling at her green eyes or her gregarious personality.
And she loved water. She would wait outside the shower for one of us to finish and trot in as soon as the shower door opened.
I sent an email to Resting Waters on Sunday evening and received a reply within an hour. Resting Waters had room for Arden the next day.
It's a welcoming space. It feels simple and open, and there are small touches throughout that suggest this is more than a business for Joslin and Darci: this is a calling to serve. There are always fresh flowers (and I've been three times - even in winter there were fresh flowers). It smells like a spa, thanks to the delicious candles they use.
This wall is in the reception area and showcases the gorgeous options for urns. This is so much nicer than looking through them in a catalog or online. I would think that for a person who hadn't decided, being able to see and touch them would make a difference. Because we are sharing Arden's remains with our neighbors (who loved her dearly), we opted for the paper scattering urn. It's the cylinder with the turquoise swirls (from the Resting Waters logo) on the right. I know those are supposed to represent water, and the more I look at it the more I also see waves of grief.
I sat in the chair next to this side table and filled out the form. If you think you couldn't possibly fill out a form at a time like this, I'm sure either Joslin or Darci would help you. My vision was blurred by tears and my brain muddled with grief and I managed to get through it. That doesn't mean that the information I provided was legible or accurate, though.
From the chair I could also see one of the displays at the counter. My friend Carolyn, who is based in Tacoma, creates fused glass jewelry and incorporates cremated remains of whom you love. Her work is here and you can see it in person, and this reminds me that I would like to write a blog post just about her and her work.
While I cried my way through the form, Darci prepared Arden for viewing. I'm not sure what I expected. I mean, I had seen photographs of animals in the viewing space and am certainly no stranger to death. Our family had been with Arden's body in the house and I greatly value that time because it helps me see that the body truly is a vessel. It's just a container. So I guess what I'm saying is that I thought the viewing would not be a significant experience in my case because we had already had ceremony at home.
I shifted to work mode because I wanted to document this experience for the Slobbered Lens family (spoiler alert: it's worth the drive if you are in Tacoma or across The Narrows). I photographed the space, the table, The Boy as he flopped around in one of those comfortable chairs, the flowers, and Arden.
Sweet Arden. Seeing her in a reverent space where she was the center of all things was a moving experience. This is what grief needs to begin to flow. It needs that space. It needs that acknowledgement and validation that the feelings are important. The history is important. This life, this connection, this relationship are all important.
I rested my camera on a chair, closed my eyes, and felt the tears barrel down my cheeks. I needed this. This space and opportunity for ceremony, however slight, were necessary for me. Without them I would have missed this final chance to connect with this gorgeous container for a soul I know will be close to me, always. Here I could thank Arden's body for carrying her to be with us when she was four (or was she five?) months old. Here I could thank Arden's body for allowing her to be with us for 17 years. Here I could release her to the universe.
Darci graciously allowed me time with Arden without hurry. I said my goodbye, rounded up The Boy, and headed to the reception area. Darci met me with a heartfelt embrace and assurance that she and Joslin would take the very best care of Arden. She told me she had the ability to begin Arden’s process that day and would send an email when her remains were ready to be picked up.
So, yes. I valued the time I had there. I appreciate that a ceremony or a viewing opportunity doesn't feel right for everyone. What I know from conversations with Joslin and Darci is that they appreciate that, too, and there isn't any pressure to do one thing or another. They also make the space available for larger ceremonies for families who would like to have a service and invite others to attend.
The following Saturday The Boy and I made the return journey to bring Arden’s vessel home (that’s just six days later). Joslin received us and warmly engaged The Boy.
I had the opportunity to see the collection of love Joslin was prepared to dispense that morning. Joslin referred to the stout forest of kraft gift bags as “presents from heaven” and shared with me the story behind that phrase (it is from a young person who visited). Witnessing the bags of various sizes, each with a handwritten tag, was another reminder of how heartbroken so many people feel in this space. And how many of them there are.
Twice I have picked up cremated remains of our animal family, and both times from an emergency hospital. Walking up to the counter and squeaking out the words that named the reason for my visit . . . I want to cry thinking about it. It’s much harder than I ever expected and is definitely one of those grief experiences that people do not talk about.
At Resting Waters, everyone knows. There isn’t a crowd of people in the waiting area to witness your lip tremble or your tears fall. These incredible women and death care professionals are ready to be with you, and they aren’t distracted by triage needs or discharge paperwork. They specialize in this, and it feels that way.
I left Resting Waters with appreciation and admiration for the compassionate and wholehearted care my family received. Working with grief every day is challenging in ways that are difficult to describe, and I am incredibly grateful for Joslin and Darci and their decision to serve families in this way. They are meant for this work.
The little things also made this a beautiful experience. The fresh flowers are lovely and I enjoyed those. One of the things that really struck me was the text on the inside of the scattering urn.
Even death has a heart.
Yes. Yes, it does.
Thank you, Joslin and Darci, for caring for our little girl. Our girly meow.
You can learn more about Resting Waters Aquamation at restingwaters.com.
There are so many options when it comes to collars.
Options from small businesses that handmake products are harder to find. For those of us in Tacoma, there is happily a new collar maker on the block: Mr. Powers.
I had the pleasure of visiting with Mr. Powers and his partner, Renate, at Art on the Ave, and saw beautifully crafted pieces. Mr. Powers makes collars by hand and Renate repurposes belts into a more whimsical style of collar she calls Second Chance.
Yep, leads are available, too, and I bet if you ask nicely you can get a custom order. By the looks of it, Mr. Powers can create darn near anything from leather.
I love supporting small businesses because I know where my money is going and I generally receive top notch service. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of the community.
If you'd like to check out what Mr. Powers and Renate are creating, you can follow them on Facebook. You can also look for them at the new night market in Tacoma.
It's a philosophical question, and for humans who love animals, it's also practical.
We have the ability to decide what death will be like for our animal family. We can choose the date and time. We can choose the place. That is a weighty decision.
So what makes a good death? Is euthanasia "better" than a natural death? How do I know? What does it look like? Better yet, what does it feel like?
I can't answer a single one of these questions for you. I can tell you about my experience. I can share stories based on what I have observed and conversations I've had with veterinarians and hospice caregivers.
This is what I know to be true.
Every death is different. Every animal is different. Every relationship is different. Every human's set of values is different. Every decline is different. Every financial situation is different. Every human's skills in making decisions are different.
There is no right answer.
The deaths in my own animal family have been drastically different. Two were euthanasia choices after medical emergencies. One was a peaceful euthanasia at home (and may have been deemed "too early" by many). One was a natural death overnight without anyone present. One was a natural, intense death under our bed (she didn't want help dying and didn't want anyone touching or looking at her). One was a natural, intense death after a three-day vigil.
Each one of these deaths impacted me (and my family) in different ways. Each one was just as it should have been, and I am grateful that we've developed the trust in each other to appreciate that there is no single "good death."
I recently learned of a canine hospice nonprofit that has a rule that no animal suffers. The caregivers know the medical possibilities for each animal and observe them closely. When one begins to exhibit signs of irreversible decline, the compassionate humans there have a going away party and assist that animal with death.
I've also talked with families about their choices for a natural death. Sometimes they love someone who is terrified of people outside the family or turns into a nervous wreck at the vet clinic. Euthanasia feels anything but peaceful because the process of getting there would be so traumatic. Sometimes they strongly believe in the natural order of things or feel they would be uncomfortable making the decision for an assisted death. Sometimes they absolutely know the companion does not want any kind of help with death because she'll do it all by herself just fine, thank you very much (that was my Moira, by the way).
There are the people in between, and that's most of us, who measure the good days against the really hard days and make the best decision they can make with regard to quality of life.
There isn't a sign that drops out of the sky that tells you what to do, and the people who say "you'll just know" may have a different experience when it's time for them to make a decision. Maybe you will know. Maybe you won't.
You do the best you can with the information and resources you have. You make the decision that reflects your values and honors your relationship. Your companion is with you 100% and is grateful for the life and love you have shared.
This was Arden in October 2017. The wounds on her face are from a blackberry bramble that for years she couldn't resist crawling into. We suspect someone interesting lived there. She hasn't been in the bramble this year. As much as I lamented that she hurt herself so much, I'm glad she went with her gut and did what she loved doing. I'm especially glad I have a photograph of the outcome.
It struck me yesterday as I texted my husband.
Arden may be down to weeks or days rather than months.
He replied that she is such a sweet spirit. Indeed, she is, and we've both noticed how she has cherished contact and connection even more in the last few months.
In March, Arden began to lose weight. Her appetite seemed the same, and she was glad to eat. In late April and early May we began to be aware of her bones because she continued to lose weight. Now when I pick her up and hold her, I am terrified I will break her because I feel her spine, hips, and shoulder blades through her thick fur. She works harder to move her body, and I often carry her to and from her favorite places when she's ready for a change of scenery.
Arden is 17 years old and has been an enthusiastically loving presence in our family since we adopted her from The Humane Society in 2001. As we reflect on our time with her, we see how much love she has freely given to us, and how concentrated that love feels in these last days. The cat we know and love has become a more intense version of the cat we have known and love.
I'm thinking back to our other family members to find a pattern. I recall conversations I've had with families about their companions and how they've changed over the years.
This is my conclusion.
The end of life is a magnifier.
People say that having a lot of money or having no money doesn't influence or change personality - it simply works with what is there. A philanthropist will be a philanthropist with any amount of resources. A miser will be a miser with any amount of resources. Money is a magnifier.
I see how the end of life is like that.
In the intensity of the series of lasts, something stirs in the soul. We turn to what we know best, the essence of who we really are, as we work through the end of life.
Those of us who have freely given and received love will continue to do so. Those of us who prefer to withdraw or withhold will do that. My guess is that this is one of the qualities of companion animals we find so endearing - they can't help but be who they are, and because they aren't as affected by social pressures they remain truer to themselves. While I might be thinking about my regrets and feeling betrayed by my body because I didn't do everything I wanted it to do, Arden opens her already enormous heart even wider and shares more of herself. Because I am aware her body is preparing to stop working, I in turn cherish her love more.
I see how much her example has become of a part of me, and I can carry that piece of her spirit with mine for the rest of my days. She has shown me how to love with tenderness and patience, even when that love or simple appreciation is slow to return. She has also shown me how to establish and defend boundaries for myself, because sometimes she didn't want to be touched that way.
Animals have always been teachers and mentors in my life, and as I sit here thinking about this magnification idea, I am more and more grateful they choose to share parts of their lives with me. I'm betting you feel the same way.
And so we look forward to these days with Arden, however they unfold. We know they will be full of love and wholeheartedness, just as she has been and will forever be.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.