Bam. Tundra. Duke. Dixie. Heidi. Lobo. Bear. Igor. Dexter.
Shep. Always my beautiful boy, my soulmate.
This list, these names of dogs who’ve crossed my lens and then the Rainbow Bridge, is longer in reality.
There’s also Hazelee, Maggie, Henrietta and Athena – all loved by one family, all lost in the span of a year. The same year my friend Hilary also lost her father.
These names, these dogs are all at the heart of what I do, honoring the love we have for them and the changes they bring to our lives.
And they all drive me to learn about pet loss grief.
Studying pet loss grief and learning to coach
My dad died in 1996 but I was too young at 25 and too lost in own selfish, youthful world to grasp the magnitude of grief.
When my heart dog Shep died in 2014, I was devastated. My first Maremma sheepdog taught me more about love, life and living than any human possibly could. He put hiking boots on my feet and adventure in my heart.
He drove me back into a world I’d left behind when I moved to Calgary: photography.
When I picked up pet photography as an entrepreneurial pursuit, I knew he’d had a hand (paw?) in getting me there, too. Immersing myself in that world, I realized the importance of all those pictures I took of our hikes and ghost-town adventures in Alberta and British Columbia.
And as I dove more into the business, I met more people whose pets were nearing the end stages of their lives.
They were hurting in advance of the death. They had grief around losing their dog before the ultimate day had ever arrived.
It made me want to learn more about pet loss grief so I could better understand their hurt and sorrow.
It made me want to listen better, to be a more sympathetic and empathetic shoulder for them to lean on during their photo shoots with their pets.
I started reading every book I could find about pet loss grief.
The next stage of my journey
The waves of grief and the way they sneak up on you are fucking exhausting. My mood can shift from light and joyful to somber and sad in the flick of a hummingbird’s wings.
It’s messy and nonlinear and confusing as all get out.
And best of all, it comes with an unlimited time offer. No one can tell grief when it’s time to stop coming to visit. It just kinda stays around and you have to learn to live with it.
I’m choosing to embrace it.
Because of these last few months, my path with pet photography is changing.
I’d already been trying to figure out how to elevate professional pet photography in the minds of humans. Many of my friends in the business and I all have one general mission: to create a legacy of your pet through beautiful, custom artwork.
We want pet guardians to understand the importance of having these prints adorn the walls of your home.
Because your pet is even more than family. She’s your guardian, your constant companion, your teacher. She changes your life in ways you could not have imagined before you met her. She loves unconditionally, purely and largely.
As I mulled all these things over while out on a hike with my teacher and guardian, it came to me. I could build a network of professional pet photographers and connect them to the pet guardians who need us for those last-minute photo shoots.
“Uh, it’s been done,” you say.
Yup, but this one will also introduce a podcast that helps pet guardians find the services and support they need as their pets age or become ill and ultimately leave us for the Rainbow Bridge.
As I discussed the plan with one of my business coaches, she said, “Why don’t you get certified in grief coaching?”
That’s when the path became clearest.
An army of pet loss grief coaches
There’s the dream.
A grief coach is a guide, someone educated in the language of grief and can provide support, a shoulder to lean on. She is not a counselor or a therapist; both positions require a post-secondary degree and state licensing.
With Cathy’s guidance, I plan to create a program that teaches pet photographers about pet loss grief and certify them as coaches.
That way, we can all be better service providers to our clients who come to us in times of need.
My first little army features a group of incredibly talented photographers, who will help create podcast episodes centered on pet aging, anticipatory grief and post-death grief.
We will be informative, thoughtful and insightful with our podcasts.
At times, we will strive to be a little light-hearted. Because grief is heavy and dark and we need the levity to manage it.
All the time, we will keep in mind the primary goal of the podcast: being a shoulder to lean on for pet guardians who are facing the loss of their best fur friends.
We are aiming for an Aug. 1 launch of the podcast. I hope you’ll find One Last Network and follow along.
All around the circle
This is an incredible and daunting next step in my journey as a professional pet photographer. I have a large, wonderful community to lean on and the most amazing business coaches to guide me through this, including Cathy Cheshire, Craig Turner-Bullock, Heather Lahtinen and Nicole Begley.
They all say, “You got this.”
My founding members are an amazing group and raring to start recording their own podcasts episodes. Many of them you will meet as you dip your toe into this week’s blog circle.
When you get to the bottom of Kylee’s post, click the link for the next post in the blog circle. Keep that up on everyone’s post until you find yourself back here to my new journey as a pet loss grief coach and podcaster.
That’s when you know you’re home.
Right where you belong.