Category Archives: death

Coping

Everyone has his or her own way of coping with loss or drastic change. For me it means grabbing a camera, putting a leash on the dog, and going for a walk on a country road just to stretch and breathe slowly, letting the stress out with each deep breath.

Last vestiges of fall foliage

Last vestiges of fall foliage

Sometimes if you take the time to peek into the ditches you’ll find remnants of the amazing fall foliage colours the Maritimes are famous for – and it will make you smile in spite of yourself.

Not letting go

Not letting go

And at the edge of the road a loan leaf clings to the naked branch of a bush, its comrades blown away by the last strong wind.

After two weeks of travelling in to the hospital to sit with my mother, brothers and sisters while her life ebbed away, and another week of frantic activity after the not-unexpected 6:a.m. call, the hubbub has slowed and the exhaustion has set in. When you are sad it is hard to get motivated to bundle up against the cold and go outside, but Mother Nature offers solace, encouragement and the rejuvenation needed to keep coping and moving on.

 

Supermoon (Beaver moon) Rising

Supermoon (Beaver moon) Rising

Last night I had intended to go out and set up my gear to capture the rising of the Supermoon over the local hills. One of the side effects of grief and attempting to cope is the inability to remember things properly and motivate yourself in a timely way. Instead of preparing, I sat down and ate dinner with my husband, only realizing after the fact that I’d missed that moment of the moon appearing over the crest of the hill. The best I could manage was a quick snap of it rising rapidly through the naked tree branches across the road.

Supermoon setting

Supermoon setting

My alternate plan, since I’m an early riser anyway, was to get out this morning and capture the giant orb setting over the Town of Sussex to the west of us. Mother Nature played a cruel joke on my plan and hid most of the moon behind cloud cover, showing just enough to taunt me!

Look closely and you'll see the lights of Sussex at the bottom of the photo.

Look closely and you’ll see the lights of Sussex at the bottom of the photo.

Everyone has different coping strategies. For me it will be more walks with Harley and perhaps a camera over my shoulder too. It’s been a long several months and no matter how prepared for someone’s death you think you are, you aren’t. A death brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others. Hopefully those who cope by striking out against others will find their way back to those who support each other in coping with the loss of the linchpin that held it all together.

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12 Years Together

Halo on the farmTwelve years ago we lived on a small hobby farm just outside Sussex, NB. My horse, Beau, was lonely. They’re herd animals and need critter companions to be happy. I decided to kill multiple birds with one stone, so to speak, and went to our local area cat rescue organization, #PawsandWhiskers.

I wasn’t looking for a kitten, but instead a mature cat who was wily and could fend for herself. Of the many felines roaming the place, one stood out. She waltzed over to me as I was filling out the adoption application form and basically meowed, “You’ll do.”

I popped her into my cat carrier and took her home. Halo moved into the hay room in the barn and for the next several years was my horse’s best buddy all the while ridding our barn, fields and the neighbours’ fields of unwanted rodents. It took a while, but she slowly began to trust us and seek affection.

We weren’t sure exactly how old she was when she joined our family, but somewhere between two and three years old and she’d had a few litters of kittens before arriving at Paws and Whiskers where she was promptly spayed. I suspect many of the “torties” I see around town are her descendants!

A few years ago we sold our farm and moved into a smaller home. Halo became a house cat, enjoying the privileges that go with being a pampered pet – beds to sleep on, a fireplace to luxuriate in front of, toys to play with, endless amounts of food and a clean litter box all to herself. She had critter siblings to play with too – and annoy. And she had lap time; lots and lots of lap time.

We enjoyed each other’s company for the past twelve years and I think we provided our beautiful wee rescue kitty with a very good life.

Recently her health took a turn for the worse and we recognized the symptoms. A decision had to be made and so, with a heavy heart, today Halo and I made that last lonely journey to the veterinarian’s office. Great kindness was shown both to her and to me, her grieving ‘mama’. And, surrounded by love, she left us and crossed the rainbow bridge to join her horse Beau, her sister Triscuit and her brother Hoover romping, pain free, together in some big field.

RIP Halo.

_DSF2236 - Version 2

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Why make photographs?

That’s a very ‘heavy’ question. People take snapshots every day with their point and shoot cameras or their cell phones. Those shots are usually intended to document a brief moment in time, some activity or perhaps a quick shot of some friends, family or pets.

But, to truly make photographs, a little more thought is required. It’s not about the gear; it’s about the mindset of the person pushing the shutter button.

I believe that every photograph should tell a story. By consciously deciding to make photographs, I have forced myself to slow down and really think about what story each photograph is supposed to tell.

Last summer I was commissioned to do a portrait session with a man and his dog. The man loved his dog deeply. As he told me about their time together, I began to understand the story I needed to tell. As a young dog she had been a stray, found huddled under the man’s toolshed on his rural farm property. Presumably she had been abandoned on the back country road for some reason. With gentleness and kindness the many eventually lured the dog out from under the shed and to his house where, for over a decade, the two lived in harmony. They shared walks around the property, through the woodlot, checking on the blueberry fields, and staying home together relaxing on the porch or in the house. The reason the man commissioned the photos was that the dog was getting quite old and showing signs that her life was winding down and the man wanted to have images that truly spoke to the dog’s personality and to the deep relationship the two shared.

We spent time roaming the property together capturing the images that I knew would tell the story of their fourteen year relationship..

One morning early this week I got an email from the man telling me that his beloved companion had passed away. His heart was broken. She had gone outside to relieve herself, came in, he gave her a rub and she laid down beside his bed and died – a final act shared.

The collection of photographs made that day are providing comfort to a shattered heart and will, in the future, bring back happier memories of time spent roaming the trails, rubbing heads, and sharing time as only one can with a beloved pet.

RIP Brandy.

Keeping an eye out for her friend from the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.

Keeping an eye out for her friend from the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.

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June is a cruel month for us

Hoover's first day in Smiths Creek, NB, 2008

Hoover’s first day in Smiths Creek, NB, 2008

Looking like a wee black bear cub, Hoover came into our lives in 2008 and left us a few short years later on June 3, 2014, tearing enormous holes in both of our hearts. Not a day goes by that we don’t mention him, think of him, miss his loving soul and goofy antics. Even now, a year later, seeing his wise eyes in the many, many photos I took of him, brings unbidden tears to my eyes and Joel’s as well.

For us, June is a cruel month. This year, not only has the weather been abysmal, but with the first anniversary of Hoover’s passing, we’ve learned that grief truly doesn’t diminish, at least not quickly.

I hope that those who’ve lost spouses, family members, children (the absolute worst), or friends will not see these comments as disrespectful of their losses. Far from it. Grief is grief, regardless of the reason. The stages are the same.

Barely two weeks after Hoover’s death my horse, Beau, died. He was 20 years old – still young-at-heart – and should have had many years ahead of him, but it wasn’t to be.

Beau head

 

He’d been with me for 16 of his 20 years, traveling from Quebec to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Alberta and back again. He was my rock through a divorce, relocation, new relationship, new marriage and new life. His mane soaked up many tears over the years – tears of regret, sorrow and then joy.

In his retirement years he was helping other riders to learn the skills they’d need to ride all kinds of horses. Unfortunately his second career was cut short.

Just four years earlier, in mid-June, we lost our Rag Doll kitty, Triscuit, to diabetes, a condition we’d never associated with cats. It seems it is quite common. Like Beau, Triscuit had lots of miles under her paws, moving from Hampton to Halifax, Calgary and back to Sussex. I swear she thought she was a dog when traveling – content as long as we were with her.

"Triscuit" 2000-2010

“Triscuit” 2000-2010

So for us, June is a triply cruel month – filled with memories of warm hearts, warm furry bodies, eyes that see into your soul – each having left paw or hoof prints in our hearts.

Now we have one furry companion – Halo. She was 13 years old (we think) last month and we hope she’ll be with us for a long time to come. She has taken on the role of guardian of our hearts, making sure both of us are provided with lots of snuggles, lots of purring and ‘head bonks’ – in exchange for an endless supply of kitty cookies and warm beds.

Halo4903 - Version 2-web

 

Such is life with animals.

RIP our old friends. You may be gone but you will never be forgotten.

 

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A break is a good thing!

The month of June, in our house, was a dreadful one filled with loss and sorrow – and a huge break in my heart. First our beloved dog, Hoover, passed away and then Beau, the horse I’d had for 17 years, joined him on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. For weeks afterward I felt disoriented and lost, so I decided to take a short road trip to visit some friends and places in Nova Scotia – to take a physical and mental break from the daily reminders of what was gone.

The weather was ideal for a road trip when I set off. I reached the NB / NS border easily and stopped to enjoy the scenery, including the large wind farm taking advantage of the never-ending winds on the Tantramar Marshes.

Windfarm on the Tantramar Marsh

Windfarm on the Tantramar Marsh at the NB/NS border.

The overcast skies made the drive easier on the eyes, that’s for sure.

I arrived at my friend’s home and was delighted with her rustic, unstructured gardens and back yard – an oasis of huge trees, large shrubs and periodic surprises tucked away beside a shed here, a rock there.

Garden Chair

Garden Chair

Purple flower_web White shrub_web

 

The next day I explored “the Valley” where I had begun my university education years ago. A trip to Hall’s Harbour was a refreshing break from the incessant humidity and heat on the Valley floor – a 10º difference in temperature.

Halls Harbour breakwater_web

Rocks forming an enormous breakwater between the world famous high tides of the Bay of Fundy and the sheltered harbour.Halls Harbour low tide_web

Low tide with some of the fishing fleet and pleasure craft resting on the ocean floor.Halls Harbour rock_web

Halls Harbour seagulls_web

 

Seagulls startled by the click of my camera shutter. Note to self, muffle that in the future.

Halls Harbour seaweed rocks_webSeaweed coated boulders leading down from the breakwater to the ocean floor at low tide.

I drove up over the steep hill from Hall’s Harbour and started down the other side toward the hot and sultry “Valley”.

Looking down into the Annapolis Valley where the temperature was close to 30ºC and very humid.

Looking down into the Annapolis Valley where the temperature was close to 30ºC and very humid.

Next stop? Historic Grand Pre.

The beach at Grand Pre looking toward Blomidon Mountain at low tide.

The beach at Grand Pre looking toward Blomidon Mountain at low tide.

A wide swath of beach (see the people in the distance?).

A wide swath of beach (see the people in the distance?). Ocean floor, Bay of Fundy, low tide.

Between the Grand Pre historic sight and the beach you drive through this farmland - and hope the dykes hold!

Between the Grand Pre historic sight and the beach you drive through this farmland – and hope the dykes hold!

The next day Tropical Storm Arthur attacked the Maritimes with a vengeance. We lost power at my friend’s house and spent the day watching trees break, branches fly by the windows, and keeping our fingers and toes crossed that nothing would damage her very old house or either of our cars parked in the yard. We were lucky. From the photos the next day and those in the news media, others weren’t.

Wind whipping by the living room window

Wind whipping by the living room window

The next day, since we still had no power but the storm had passed, except for the residual winds, we decided to venture forth and check out  any damage in the yard. Broken branches lay everywhere on the ground and her neighbour’s tree had split, falling onto her privacy hedge along the roadside, taking out several well established and older shrubs, rose bushes, etc.

It took about 36 hours for power to be restored to Hantsport and the area and the cleanup was underway.

I headed home on Monday morning, stopping briefly to visit another friend and share a lunch and reminisce.

This trip did what I intended it to do; it provided a much needed break and a chance to re-set my priorities and perspective on life in general.

Home now, tired from the driving but refreshed from the trip, life goes on.

 

 

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Listen to your heart

Hoover's first day in Smiths Creek, NB

Hoover’s first day in Smiths Creek, NB, 2008

People deal with grief in many different ways. Me, I write.

Hoover joined our family as a six-week-old puppy on Labour Day week-end, 2008. Looking like a wee bear cub, he quickly captured our hearts, and those of our friends, with his antics and happy soul.

Dogs are wise beyond their years and we quickly noticed that he seemed to know what we were thinking or planning to do, long before we knew ourselves. He became our constant companion – always with one or the other of us, or both.

From the start Hoover lived to play and to please. Show him a tennis ball and he was ecstatic. Throw it, and you’d be his friend for life (and committed to extended games of fetch).

Hoover RIP_web 2
Hoover Hoover

Among his siblings, he was a goliath. His mother was a tiny girl. His sisters and brothers were true “Miniature” Aussies, while Hoover was closer in size to a full-sized Australian Shepherd.

Everywhere he went, Hoover made friends. He enjoyed nothing more than spending time with us, taking us on walks and exploring roadsides from here to there and back again. In winter, he would romp in the snow, burrowing in and bursting forth again covered in flakes and smiling from ear to ear.


Hoover Hoover Hoover Hoover Hoover

Unfortunately, from a very young age he was plagued with a genetic disease that caused his skin to develop rashes, scabs and very sore spots. Exacerbated by the sun, it was impossible to control and as a result he ended up with numerous bald spots from head to toe.

Hoover Hoover

To add to his misery, this past spring he was diagnosed with diabetes. Despite a careful regimen of diet, exercise and twice-daily insulin shots, controlling his glucose levels proved very challenging. The last straw for his misery was an abscessed tooth. A course of antibiotics helped minimally – but we could see that he was generally miserable.

Joel and I had “the talk” about Hoover and, with a very heavy hearts and tear-filled eyes, we decided to have Hoover ‘put to sleep’ as soon as possible. His tooth infection wasn’t improving much. His skin was like parchment and he tore it a couple of times – a painful experience for him and us. The tooth was oozing, bleeding and very sensitive. He was also losing his appetite and his joie de vivre and becoming totally disinterested in his walk. He began distancing himself from us, preferring to just lie on the deck or yard and do nothing. His eyes were dull and, in my heart, I knew it was time.

Hoover RIP 10_ last winter_web 4
Hoover RIP 10_ last winter_web 2



Hoover RIP 7_ enjoy winter_web 2

Singing for Joy on a Winter's Morning

Singing for Joy on a Winter’s Morning

Hoover RIP 6_ 3 years old_web 4

Hoover RIP 5_ PEI vacation_web

We could have had his tooth removed but I honestly think he was too weak to withstand the anesthetic and recovery afterwards, not to mention fighting off any possible infection. His body was covered with scabs and he moved like he is in constant pain. We couldn’t bear to watch him suffer. The diabetes was the least of our concerns – that went well as far as the needles, schedule and so on. But, although he was not yet six years old, he acted and moved like a very old dog. Even the sight of his favourite tennis ball didn’t stir much enthusiasm.

He’s been a wonderful little friend and companion who, unfortunately, has been cursed with poor health for most of his short life. It’s been a rough few days getting ready to make this decision, and it will be tough for a while yet. But, I know in my heart that we have made the right decision – for him. We are grateful to have had him in our lives, however briefly.

RIP little buddy. We listened to our hearts and we listened to you. There will be no more suffering for you. Thanks to Dr. Sheila MacGowan and the staff at the Hampton Veterinary Hospital for their kindness and understanding.

Hoover, you are greatly missed and our hearts are broken. We loved you enough to let you go.

RIP Hoover July 17, 2008 - June 3, 2014

RIP Hoover
July 17, 2008 – June 3, 2014

 

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Lives Entwined

Lines within lines

Lines within lines

Like the lines in this photograph our lives are forever entwined with others.

As a child I had a pen pal, a girl I met through Girl Guides when I wanted to make a friend before going away to study violin for the summer. Her name was Mary Jane. We wrote back and forth for quite awhile and then finally summer came. My mother and I took up residence in the small town of Wolfville, NS, so I could study violin with Prof. Kalejs at Acadia University. Mary Jane studied piano with his wife. We had a lot in common.

I spent several summers in Wolfville taking music lessons and hanging out with my friend and her friends – and it was good.

Later on I went to university at Acadia, studying music, and Mary Jane and I were classmates. We both got married around the same time (to young men who had gone to Dalhousie U. together) and our first children were born the same year – a month apart.

Our parallel lives continued and, although we didn’t see each other often (I was the roving gypsy – she stayed rooted in Nova Scotia), whenever we got together it was like days, not months or years, had gone by since our last get together.

Mary Jane had struggled with coordination issues for most of her life and in 1982 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Undeterred, she went on with her life – teaching music lessons, raising her daughters and being helped by her loving husband Michael.

Later on, armed with a motorized wheel chair and a special van she and Michael were able to travel and create memories.

Mary Jane succumbed to pneumonia three weeks ago, although I only learned of her passing today. I knew she was weak and gravely ill, but somehow I didn’t expect her to succumb any time soon. Even though we didn’t visit often, I will miss her.

In less than a year I have lost three friends, all in their mid-sixties, all vibrant and wonderful people with children and grandchildren that they should still be enjoying for many years to come. Good lives cut far too short. It is not fun entering the stage of life when there are too many funerals.

The expression “live every day as if it were your last” has become far too real.

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Grief follows all loss – not just a death

Pristine beach near Ilheus, Brazil

Pristine beach near Ilheus, Brazil

I recently read an article titled “15 Things I Wish I’d Known About Grief” by Teryn O’Brien (posted on the Identity Renewed website blog on November 21, 2013). Like many others, I shared it on my Facebook page making note that some friends and relatives who had experienced loss (read ‘death of a loved one’) recently might find it comforting. And indeed I’m sure some did. I thought of the two dear friends I’ve lost in the last two years to cancer and how my grief over their deaths followed a similar path. In fact, item #15 “Grief can be beautiful and deep and profound. Don’t be afraid of it. Walk alongside it. You may be surprised at what grief can teach you.” really struck a chord with me. So did #11. It recommends asking “How? How can I live life more fully to honour my loved one? How can I love better, how can I embrace others, how can I change and grow because of this?”

In my grief over the loss of my friends I made the decision to attend a photography workshop in Brazil and step way outside my comfort zone – both personally and professionally. My thinking was – “if not now, when?” and it was a decision I am glad I took.

But that said, I think we should recognize and understand that there are other types of grief too – grief resulting from separation from loved ones by time and distance, for example. That happens in many forms. It may happen to families when the husband and father has to be away for weeks or months at a time due to work. It also happens when different generations live at opposite ends of the country or sides of the world.

I grieve – for relatives and friends who have passed away.

And, I grieve for:

  • lost opportunities and memories not made,
  • time not spent with my son and his family,
  • playtime not experienced with my grandchildren,
  • holidays not shared with family,
  • the look of wonder on children’s faces on Christmas morning – not seen,
  • the chance to hear what happened during those first few days at school,
  • and so much more.

Time and distance can often be bigger barriers than one might think. Even with all of today’s technology, just connecting, however, briefly, can be a challenge.

Like a hot air balloon lifting off in the rising sun, hope springs eternal.

SatAM _L2H6566

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Why? Why not?

My son, who turns 40 today (where DID the time go?) has always been the family adventurer, traveling to far off places to see what there was to see – just because. Now he has settled down with a wife and children and it’s my turn to “hit the road”.

Why now, you ask? Why not? And certainly before I get much older and have my traveling restricted by physical limitations.

Throughout my life I have been blessed to have several good and close friends – probably more than many people are fortunate enough to enjoy. Sadly, in the past two years, I lost two of them to cancer. Fran with her gravely voice who could bring a smile to my face just by calling to say “Haya, Cec, how’re ya doin’?” And this spring, Anne – my chocolate loving buddy – who was my friend through many ups and downs – personally and professionally.

Three years ago I had a chance to go to Portugal to participate in a photography workshop with Italy’s Paula Da Silva. But the cautious me said “oh no, too far, too difficult, too expensive”. Last year I had the chance to go to the first Brazil on Focus workshop with Paula, but again that cautious me spoke up, along with the guilty me who said, in addition to the first bit, “oh no – you can’t justify spending so much money on yourself when your husband (who, incidentally, never complained) gets nothing out of this. And I stayed home.

Then Fran passed away, followed by Anne, and I said to myself “Why not? When will you ever have this opportunity again?” And so, in less than two weeks I am off to Brazil to join a group of photographers from around the world on the adventure of a lifetime. Stay tuned and I will share the adventure as much as technology allows on the back roads of Bahia, Brazil!

Oh, and while I’m away it would have been Anne’s birthday – so this one’s for you! I’ll eat some Brazilian chocolate in your honour, my friend!

D. Anne death by chocolate

Anne enjoying some chocolate rapture – my home made 7-layer Death by Chocolate!

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Goodbye my friend, there are no words

For almost thirty years Anne and I were friends. We met through work, discovered we were neighbours, became close friends, watched our children grow up and become young men, and we shared the many ups and downs of life through all of that. We stood beside each other at our weddings, and she helped me through a divorce. We celebrated each others successes and passed the tissues when we needed to.

Four and a half months ago she received the horrid diagnosis: stage IV cancer. She fought as hard as she could for as long as she could, but it was inevitable that the disease would win.

She will be greatly missed by her husband, sons and daughters, the grandchildren she adored, her friends and former colleagues – and me.

 

Anne and me looking so young in 1989

Anne and me looking so young in 1989

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