Finding The Soul Dog Journey Project

2021 has been a journey through grief.

This year was one long journey of saying goodbye. I wasn’t ready for it, and I’m not over it. But, sitting here with only two days left of 2021, I can say that because of my journey through grief, I’ve found myself closer to where I’m supposed to be.

I’m going to tell you about this beautiful thing I created called the Soul Dog Journey Project, but first I need to tell you about how I found my way to it.

It started with a conversation my husband and I had at the beginning of the year. We were lying on our bed talking about our two dogs who were no longer with us, and I got really sad. The grief overcame me, and through tears, I said, “it’s so dumb that they died.” What my husband said next is something that would help bring shape to the journey ahead of me. I shared this story with my community on January 26th, and you can read it below.

 

The other night, my husband James and I were lying in bed chatting before drifting off to sleep. We were sharing memories of our dogs Cohen and Delilah (oh the days of having three medium-large dogs in one house). I love these moments, even if it’s still really hard for me to think about the fact that we have to live the rest of our lives without all the dogs we’ve loved. Talking about them helps to push through that sadness, though.

As we were recalling some of our favorite stories, I suddenly felt the lump of grief form in my gut and work its way up to my throat. I looked up at the ceiling and said, “It’s so dumb that they died” Without missing a beat, James replied, while looking up at the same spot, “It’s so great that they lived.”

And the lump in my throat released into a sigh of relief. I don’t know how else to explain it other than it was like a deep understanding took over me in that moment. It was a reminder of what the experience of loving dogs teaches us: to live. I mean REALLY live. To love what is in front of us, and to carry that with us always.

It is so great that they lived, and it is a gift that we got to live with them.

A number of my friends and clients said goodbye to the pets they love last year. Today, I’m sending my love out to them, and remembering the beautiful lives they lived together. ❤️ If you said goodbye to your beloved pet in the past year, tell me their name, and we will remember them together.

 

 

Grief is a part of living.

The day after I shared this story, my family suffered an unimaginable tragedy when my 16 year old nephew died of suicide.

In the days, weeks, and months following the death of my nephew, I thought a lot about the timing of when I posted the story about that conversation with my husband. Sharing it had been an exercise in vulnerability, which for me, is a form of strength. I believe that because I was in a state of awareness around grief, I was able to move through the next few months without completely losing my shit.

I didn’t post about my nephew’s death until a couple of months later. It was too hard to find words, but mostly because I needed to move through the immediate aftermath of it.

 

 

Grief leads us to light.

During all of this, I was coming to terms with the fact that my girl, Kerouac, was approaching the end of her journey here on Earth. Between the months of February and August, she declined rapidly. We could no longer leave her alone, which meant making the decision to limit what we did outside of our home.

I chose to limit my availability for photo sessions so that I could spend as much time with Kerouac as possible. It wasn’t easy because I love my work, but it was everything that we both needed.

Saying goodbye to my Soul Dog.

At the beginning of August, we made an appointment for a senior checkup for Kerouac, and something in me knew what was coming. The night before our appointment, I cried. I told James that I knew it might be time soon, but I wasn’t sure that I was ready to say goodbye. I wanted her to stay forever.

The next day, our vet let us know that if we were ready, it was a good time to make the plan to let her go. At some point in the previous month, she had either had a stroke or a brain tumor had developed. Although she was at times her silly, sassy, and snuggly self, Kerouac was no longer living comfortably. She was almost 16 years old and was ready to go.

We spent the next two weeks soaking up every moment together. I shared this journey openly with my community because I believed it could help them to see what we were experiencing. I’ve built my work and my life around the idea that our stories are important, and worth telling. During those last two weeks together, I captured as much as I could, so that I would have pieces of my Soul Dog to hold onto forever.

These pieces brought inspiration and hope to those in my community who have experienced the grief and joy that loving another being brings. Sharing this journey has done the same for me.

It is because of my own experiences of love (and grief and joy), and the feedback I recieved from my community after sharing these experiences, that I found my way to the Soul Dog Journey Project.

 

The Soul Dog Journey Project is the beautiful thing to come from my broken heart.

I’ve always believed that the work I do as a pet photographer is so much bigger than photography. It’s about deep connection, not only with the animals in our lives, but with ourselves. I created the Soul Dog Journey Project to help others acknowledge and celebrate those connections while actively experiencing them.

 

The original Soul Dog Journey Project was a course that consisted of 52 weekly prompts to help you capture your Soul Dog Journey. Each week, you’ll receive inspiration for taking photos and video of the dog you love, and encouragement to write out another piece of your story.

It’s my hope for you to get to experience with your dog what Kerouac and I had while we captured our journey. This year was hard, but if I get to close it out with bringing this piece of Kerouac’s legacy to life, then I know that everything is going to be okay.

 

As of May 2024, The Soul Dog Journey Project is being reimagined to give us more opportunities for creative exploration and connection. The new course, SoulDog Journey Project, does not focus on sharing our journeys on social media. We are exploring ways to create art that moves us in whatever medium we feel curious about – photography, painting, charcoal, collage, video, illustration, poetry, etc.  The waitlist for the new edition of the SoulDog Journey Project is now open, with enrollment expected to open in June 2024. Sign up below to join the waitlist and receive the first three SoulDog Journey Project prompts for FREE!

 

JOIN THE WAITLIST & GET YOUR 3 FREE PROMPTS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can probably imagine, some of my favorite people in all the land are other pet photographers. I love them because they ‘get it.’ They understand why this work of telling our pets’ stories through photos is so important. I’m grateful to be able to call many talented and big-hearted pet photographers my friends, and am happy to share their brilliance with you. Click the text below to begin your journey through this lovely circle of wisdom from pet photographers across the globe: Canberra Pet Photographer Ina of Ina J Photography recaps on the last 12 months and plans for 2022.

Want to talk about a photo session with your dog? Let’s connect.

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8 Responses

  1. oh my gosh Marika, this is probably the most impactful and loving blog post I’ve ever read. I do get it and I am excited to join you on this 52 week project. Much love to you.

  2. I’m sobbing… your videos are so special.

    I love your Soul Dog Journey Project. What a brilliant way to remind us to enjoy the moments we have. I love it.

  3. If we open our hearts and minds up to what dogs can teach us, they will change our lives. Shep changed me and when I think about that, I remind myself to let Bella show me something every day.

  4. Speechless. Best blog I have ever read. Just lost our 16 year old on December 21st. Many more have gone before. An entire Santa’s list of names between dogs, cats and horses. Also experienced the grief of losing a young man at the age of 39. Everything hit home for me. Well said and shared. The Soul Dog Project is truly a great thing! Your husband’s response — EPIC. Have a safe, healthy and happy New Year!

  5. Wow, this is a very moving, thoughtful blog post Marika. I’ll admit there were tears in my eyes while I read some of this. Your husband said a very profound statement – I need to remember that. Bless you for sharing and so sorry to hear about the lost of your soul dog.

  6. Beautifully written Marika, I’m balling my eyes out here. We had to say goodbye to our best boy Dingo in 2021 and I said “If it weren’t for the cancer, he’d still be with us”. Healthy as a horse, but for the damn cancer. It never gets any easier, this Christmas was hard without him, but I will try to think of Jame’s words in the future…”It’s so great that they lived”. The project looks wonderful and I hope a lot of people capture forever memories of their pets through it.

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