This is my favorite photograph.
I had the honor of witnessing this moment, and preserving it with a point-and-shoot camera, in 2002. Vaughn was three years old.
Today is his birthday.
Vaughn died in 2007. I mark his dates of birth and death each year a new calendar. I don't know how long I will do that. Even ten years later, I honor each of these days.
Ten years later, I miss him every day.
The rough edge on my grief has worn to a smoother, more polished finish. There are a few prickly parts yet, and those surface when I come across something of his - a coat, collar, or medical record.
My memories of him are maddeningly fuzzy. There were so many pieces of our relationship, so many adventures we had, so many amazingly poignant and breathtaking moments during his last 18 months in hospice . . . I can't remember them as well as I thought I always would. I'm writing down the stories that come to me to keep those details. Those are adventures I enjoy revisiting on his anniversaries.
This one is thanks to Jamie Piper of Cowbelly Pet Photography (2006).
People often ask me how long the grief lasts.
My reply is "as long as love"
This relationship you are in now is one of the most important of your life. You vulnerably share your ups and downs with someone who accepts you as you are, loves you, and does not pass judgment. You are a team. Your mistakes have no place in the relationship because they are never held against you.
That's a difficult relationship to lose.
Grief is a new way of being with someone you love.
I grieved when I learned Vaughn's liver was failing. I grieved while I provided the best care for him, feeling that no matter what I did, it would never be enough. I grieved knowing I could not be with him longer. I grieved for the loss of the life I had before I had a 145 lb. hospice patient. I felt horribly broken the moment I knew that he would die within hours, and he wanted help.
As I recall all of this my eyes are blurred with tears.
Love changes over time. I love him differently this year than I did last year. I love him differently today than I did ten years ago. His spirit remains the same to me and I continue to evolve by practicing so many of the things he graciously modeled for me.
I expect I'll mark this date on my calendar for a long, long time.
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.