As a photographer, finding the words that truly describe a “SoulSession” is both a challenge and a learning experience. The basic mission statement for SoulSessions is: “SoulSessions provides meaningful photography on a donation basis, for people with their beloved animals who are close to the end of life.”
When I started photographing SoulSessions years ago, I knew from my own life experiences with hospice, death, and grief that this was an inevitable calling. I intuitively felt that these photographic sessions were part of a very big picture, and that language just didn’t capture the significance of what went on during those sessions. Sometimes very few words are spoken and other sessions feel more like a social visit. The tone and length depends on the animal’s comfort level and mood, as well as the relationship with his/her human. There is reminiscing, laughter, sometimes tears.
Each visit is so unique, and each demands delicacy and respect.
One of the most meaningful Soulsessions I experienced was with a woman named Jan and her dogs Jocie and Marie. With her permission, here is her story:
“I came across a beautifully written article about you in the Oregonian. It was worded so profoundly. The article was one of intrigue, and fear of the prospect of saying goodbye to one of my beloved furries. I went back and forth... Do I save this article, or do I ignore this?
To cut it out and keep it confirms the fact I will one day say my goodbye. I cut it out. Little did I know in less than 2 months, I was told my 14 year old black Standard Poodle Jocie had an aggressive cancer. I could not breathe.
It took me hours of pep talks and tears to call, and when Kristin answered the phone I had such a hard time telling her my girl Jocie was dying and could she come to photograph her?
Kristin arrived and walked in gently and slowly with a few soft words. Jocie and my other Poodle, Marie, greeted her with the same gentleness. I felt like I could breathe. Kristin found the light she liked and gently suggested we let Jocie tell us what she would like to do and where she would like to lay. The next hour and a half unfolded with so much love it was palpable. We all surrounded my Jocie with love and respect and a realization that we were honoring her time with us left on this earth. It was beautiful. Jocie died 3 days later, the day after Christmas.
3 months later my other dog Marie was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer as well. We had 10 days from diagnosis to death.
I called Kristin… I knew this would be very hard. Marie is my little girl who was deaf at 7 weeks, after vaccinations. We had the deepest bond I have ever experienced with anyone or any pet.
When Kristin walked into our house Marie got up from her chair and ran to kiss her face.
Death is death… it is hard… it is sad and shocking and unimaginable. And now I have these photographs of Marie’s and my relationship… the way I held her - the way I signed to her with my hands and eyes. How I touched her and how she looked at me.”
As more people generously share how they experience their SoulSession, we talk about how rituals are created to help them deal with their impending loss. How death is so hard, yet part of life, and can be met with grace. I’m always learning from both the humans and the animals. As a result, I find more words to describe SoulSessions.