Death is a funny thing.
We don't like to talk about it, so we don't. We know when we sign up to join our lives with adopted animal family that we'll experience death. We know it will tear us apart, and we do it anyway.
Yesterday I sat down with a friend whose beloved dog died in the summer of 2016. These two did nearly everything together, and this dog, Ray, wasn't supposed to be this man's dog. He was supposed to be his son's dog.
Ray knew who he was here to love.
My friend told me that did would never love another dog again. I have an idea of how he feels, just like you do. It seems impossible and reckless to subject yourself to that kind of pain again.
We do it.
We do it because we need to love and be loved. I think we also do it because these souls come into our lives and demand it. Just like Ray did.
This time passes so quickly. We count on having another day, another week, one more month, or maybe even a year. Lots of time. When death comes it feels like a giant punch in the stomach.
I want to make an appeal to you.
Love fully today.
If you are providing hospice care for someone you love, please see that as a gift of quality of life. You give comfort and grace where there might otherwise be very little. That care is about life, not about death.
If you are nurturing someone through a difficult illness, recovery, or a long-term condition, find the beauty in those small moments that make up your days. Sure, the medication is unglamorous, as is cleaning up all varieties of bodily fluids (and not-so-fluids). You do that out of love.
That hint of a smile you see is real. She loves you. She is grateful for you. She wants to be with you above anyone else in the world, no matter how she feels.
Love this today. Find those little things that make your days together. Those are the moments that take up the most space in your heart.
My friend has very few photographs of Ray. The ones he has are of his younger years. He cherishes those, and yesterday he told me he wished he had more - any, really - of Ray's last months. He wanted to see the experience of life in his silver muzzle. He wanted to see an image of how even with arthritis and reduced vision, Ray was still Ray. That heart and soul that radiated love was just as big, gracious, and lovely as it had been when he was a puppy.
At the time he didn't want photographs because he was anticipating his grief after Ray's death. He thought those photographs would be too grim. Those are the ones he wishes he had today. He said goodbye to Ray 10 months ago. He looks at one photograph every day that adorns his desk. Ray was two years old. He said something that got me yesterday about the comparison between what he sees when he looks at young Ray and what he saw when he looked at experienced Ray.
"I saw myself in him. I saw his love for me and my love for him. That wasn't there in this picture."
My friend held the photograph on his desk as he said this. Those early images of Ray are missing how their relationship changed each other. He sees that.
I can't give him photographs of Ray. I did photograph Ray's paw print his veterinarian made shortly after he died. it's not the same. These are not the photographs he wants.
Naturally, I'm tearing as I write this. This is why this work is so important. This is why it's never the wrong time to commission photography. While we plan as well as we can for a good day, sometimes that doesn't happen; honestly, those albums full of the hard days are some of my favorites because the emotion and connection between dog and human is so intense.
So . . . it's tissue time for me.
Please love today. See those little things. See the reflection of yourself and how you've changed for the better because of this hairy beast who used to chase squirrels and now barely turns her head as they run by.
This is a beautiful, focused, reflective time of life for you both. When you want to invite me to see this love with you, I'll be there. That way you'll always have it to look upon.
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.