Carrying the Weight of Loss & Death of a Pet

 It’s really been a struggle to sit down and write this post. In the last month I have said good-bye to 3 dogs – 2 long term foster dogs, Astro & Miller, and my own dog Bella. I also know it’s nearing time to let Charlie, our current hospice foster, pass on as the tumor from his cancers grow.

As a dog rescue that specializes in the medically fragile and senior dogs – I know we sign up for saying good bye over and over again. The antique curio cabinet in my living room is full with memorial urns, collars, snap shots, and other little mementos memorializing all the times I have had my heart break over the last 13 years.

As a pet photographer, I have had the opportunity to help so many pet parents prepare for losing their own pups. In this post, I’m going to try and share some of the best strategies I’ve learned for carrying the weight of loss from the death of a pet. 

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

 – Anatole France

 

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This is a normal way to grieve the loss of a pet

Sometimes I process a loss by doing everything and sometimes I process by doing nothing – and both are completely normal. There is no best way to process grief and allowing yourself to do what you need to do is the only way.

There are some deaths that have spurred me into cleaning frenzies. I find myself coming home from the vet’s office frantically removing every item from every kitchen cabinet, scouring the insides of cabinets, purging the plastic food storage containers that have been accumulating, and completely redesigning the organization of pots & pans. If I can just keep moving, if I can just control where the snacks are sorted, maybe I can make this all make sense. Of course, it doesn’t ever make sense. Whether the death was sudden & unexpected or a slow march towards the end spurred by disease, losing our beloved dogs and horses and cats and ferrets and iguanas doesn’t make sense. Surely if death made sense it wouldn’t come for these animals that have only ever loved us.

Other deaths have left me sitting dazed in my favorite chair while soda cans and water bottles and mugs of cooling and congealing coffee pile up on the side table. I feel frozen and incapable of feeling, or doing, or even moving further than required by bodily function. If I can just pause, if everything will just stop for a few seconds or minutes or days, maybe this won’t really be real.

You need to know that this is all normal. You aren’t crazy. You are doing the best you can and it is enough.

Grief cannot be fixed.

It can only be carried.

Last year after the loss of my 30 year companion, Ginger, I listened to Megan Devine read her book It’s OK That You’re Not OK.

The concepts that she brings up over and over again have helped me so much with learning to live with grief. Not only does she reassure you that you are normal, that you are not crazy, and that however you are feeling is completely normal – there is one thing that she shares that has really changed the way I look at loss. Grief cannot be fixed. It can only be carried.

You don’t need to “get over it” or “move on” – instead what you learn to do is how to keep living with a hole in your heart. You let the wound of loss scab over, but never really heal.

You might find yourself with the wound of grief suddenly ripped open again months or years after the loss because you see some guy with a husky puppy in the basket of his bicycle and the puppy’s markings are so similar to Bella’s your heart twists. It might be 8 years since Ryder suddenly passed away while you were at the vet with another dog, but when your new puppy jumps up on the dishwasher door as you’re loading dishes after dinner you just need to sit right down on the cold tile of the kitchen and scroll through your photos (safely archived in multiple back ups) until you can find the photo of Ryder sitting on the dishwasher door and show it to the new puppy.

Atlanta pet photograph visits Ponce City Market in downtown Atlanta for an early morning pet photography session.
An album is a great way to showcase the images from your dog's photo shoot with Atlanta pet photographer.

Grief & Photos

I have found the first thing I do when facing grief is look for photos. Whether it’s a person, or a dog, or a horse that I have lost – I want to find the photos.

Every single photo helps me call back a specific memory. Snapshots on my phone remind me of funny moments or stories and remind me of all the incredible connections we shared. Professional photos bring to mind the bond we shared and remind me that I loved them so much we set aside this time just for us to share this experience.

And while as a professional pet photographer, I encourage you to schedule a session for your pet, as a momma to animals, I encourage you to also be in the photos. It doesn’t matter if you need to lose 20 pounds, or if you have nothing to year, or if it’s in a pandemic and you haven’t had a hair cut in a year so you panic cut your own hair the night before your photo shoot.

Get in photos with the people and animals you love. When you need to revisit these memories you won’t see the 20 pounds or the stupid curl that kept tangling in your eyelashes. When you revisit these memories you’ll see the way you look at each other, you’ll see the incredible & unique love you shared, and you’re heart will warm, and it will be enough to help you shoulder the weight and carry the grief and loss.

Great Pyrenees dog from Madison Georgia
If you’ve made it this far, thank you.

Pet loss and grief isn’t an easy topic. Being loved by an animal is an incredible gift and carrying the loss is a price I am willing to pay.

This blog is a part of a blog circle with pet photographers from across the globe! This week we’re talking about “In Memory”.  This week Jemma from JM Photography, Suffolk talks about the difficult topic of in memory photoshoots for pets. Its all about capturing those memories for owners to treasure.

Be sure to keep clicking the link at the bottom to complete the circle until you wind up back here!

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