What is it worth to be able to see yourself in your relationship?
We talk about honoring the life of your animal and we talk about creating art that represents you both. If you haven't thought about it, give a moment or two to consider what you give and who you are.
How do you show up? How does your animal see you? How do you think she would describe you if you asked? What strengths do you bring to share?
What have you learned? How have you grown and changed? What are your values?
We tend to focus on our animals because we are givers (and because they are incredible). We admire their exceptional qualities and marvel at their wisdom and generosity. I see this in my own relationships with animals and I see it every week in the tender humans who ask for help in telling their stories.
We get the most out of these relationships when we can reflect on our contributions, and it is often the case that seeing the relationship is more powerful than describing it with words. It's not about how you look - it's about how the two of your come together and remain distinct. It's about what you can look back and see years later that you may have missed at the time. It's about being able to see how wonderful it really was or how far you have come.
This is me and Conan in 2012, sharing a sunny meadow after an early afternoon hike (thanks to my husband for being ready with the camera). I'll tell you what I see.
I see that I adore him. I am in awe of him. Even with a funny heart, arthritis in his spine, hips, and knees, and nerve damage in his neck he found joy in the movement he could manage.
I remember thinking in this moment that Conan was so, SO . . . good. Like fairy tale marvelous, except for the part about being super reactive and downright scary with other dogs and often humans.
I see that this adventure was one of the first times in Conan's life that I wasn't calculating my value based on how much I was able to do for him or what his comfort level was. I can see in his face that he didn't give two wags about how much I was or wasn't doing - he just wanted to be together, no matter what. I remember how much I changed our lifestyle when we returned home from this trip because I wanted to hang on to this blissful, settled feeling of being swallowed by love, not calculating it. On this day I had a taste of what it was like to be comfortable feeling in a relationship rather than doing. Doing was what I was good at. Doing, in spectacular fashion, was my strength.
I could go on for days about what I see.
This photograph is so much more than a photograph of me and Conan. This is a portrait of our relationship. It is a milestone in my growth. It is a reflection of Conan's life lessons rolled into one frame: ease, love, more ease, more love. I see something different here every time I look at it because Conan continues to influence me.
That's what I want for you. See your relationship as it is now. Be able to look back and see how it was in that moment. See how the relationship endures, even after death, and look at yourself through all of that.
You deserve that.
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.