If you’re familiar with my work, you already know that my Joy Sessions are the heart of what I do. I’ve photographed every life stage from very small puppies and kittens to the final hours (or even minutes!) before it’s time to say goodbye.
The nature of this work gives pet owners a built-in compassionate ear to listen and shoulder to cry on. And for some, I may have been the only one in their lives who truly understood what they were going through. There have been many sessions that end with an additional half hour or more just sitting and chatting about their pets and our shared experiences.
As my dear Gracie was nearing her time, I went down the rabbit hole of learning about grief and how to help others as they navigate their own grief journeys. I’m actually certified in Grief Companioning from the Two Hearts Pet Loss Center, and shortly after I came home from that training, we learned of Gracie’s liver and kidney failure. We thought we might lose her right then, but she held on for an additional three months. I continued my grief education during that time, and literally the day before Gracie died in 2019 I received my Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement Certificate of Counselor Training.
I haven’t talked about that much, because I wasn’t sure was I was going to do with it. I had big ideas of an online pet loss grief course – which might still happen at some point – but as always, life moves on and things get busy and ideas fall to the back burner.
All this to say, I’ve had a lot of experience and understanding with pet loss, and I know how difficult it can be. It’s something we all have to go through, but there are ways to make this inevitable heartache just a little bit easier.
The biggest takeaway from my training and from my own experiences is to not let anyone else tell you how to grieve. It’s so personal and so tied into your unique relationship that not a single other person could ever know exactly what you’re feeling. Take all the time you need, do precisely what you feel compelled to do – even if someone else thinks it’s weird – and allow your grief to ebb and flow as it will.
One thing that helped me immensely was having objects that reminded me of Gracie. Photographs, paintings, her toys and collar; they were all set up on the mantle so I could see them and experience them at any time. Some things would get put away, others moved to more prominent positions, but that “shrine” was up for months. Three years on, her box of ashes and a couple pieces of artwork are still sitting there, still a part of our lives.
So many of my clients tell me their Joy Session was invaluable in working through their grieving process. The photography session itself is a special day to look forward to, an opportunity to step away from “real life” for a bit and spend some one-on-one time together. You’d be amazed at how many otherwise tired and despondent dogs rally for their Joy Sessions! It’s like they know how important it is to their people. And the resulting artwork becomes an invaluable keepsake that you can see and touch and talk to. It’s like a direct line to every great memory you’ve made together, every touch of their fur, every toss of the ball.
When something is so important to you, such a big part of your life, why not celebrate that? You could always buy mass produced artwork to decorate your walls, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if your home expressed something more unique? More meaningful to you? Surround yourself with what you love, so even when they’re no longer with you, they can still exist in beautiful, tangible artwork.
If you’re looking for like-minded people who really “get it” please join my small but mighty grief support group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/petlossjourney/