SoulSessions: Photography At the End of Life

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We live in a culture that doesn’t like to discuss death, let alone look at it, yet pet guardians who ask former zookeeper and Portland-based photographer Kristin Zabawa to take pictures of their dying pets say the photos are critical in helping them process their grief.

For the past five years, Zabawa has been quietly capturing the final moments between guardians and their pets during what she calls “SoulSessions.” “People invite me into their homes during a time of both celebration of a loving soul, and expressions of grief. It’s humbling. For me, it’s almost like a meditative practice,” says Zabawa. “I just open myself up to the moment and respectfully accept what’s presented. My intention is to serve those who want beautiful images of their beloved animal family.”

She doesn’t charge for the sessions, although she does accept donations.

Kristin is hoping to establish a nonprofit for SoulSessions, to enable her to do the photographs full-time. She currently has a SoulSessions project on IndieGoGo to create funds to do just that. To learn more about Kristin and SoulSessions, please visit http://igg.me/at/soulsessions2015.

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Goober was a very important part of the family for many years. Beth and Goober shared a very strong bond, and she loved Goober’s dainty little paws. Goober liked to squeeze her finger with her paw while Beth held her. Beth and her sister grew up with Goober, and this was the first time that they had to say good-bye to one of their well-loved pets. “I could feel the love surrounding Goober as I photographed their SoulSession,” said Kristin. Goober left them that evening.

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For Southeast Portland resident DeeDee Remington, the photographs from a September 2013 SoulSession with her and her beloved cat Mickey Grrrl helped her cope.” Oddly enough, [the photos] really allowed me to cry, which is a critical part of processing a loss,” she says. “Mickey and I, through our 16 years together, never had photos taken,” she notes.

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She decided it truly was then or never. “It was one of the best things I ever did,” Remington says. She uses one of the pictures as her computer screen-saver, allowing her to remember Mickey Grrrl every day. The photos are “so intimate and close that I almost feel like I can reach out and touch her, which is one of the things I miss most about her passing,” she says. “That is a huge gift.”

I have personally experienced the healing power photos of your last few moments with a beloved cat can have as you move through the grieving process. I had friends take photos of me with both Buckley and Amber on their respective last days. The photos are treasures I hold close to my heart. They are a tangible reminder of the love I shared with both of my special girls, as well as the pain I felt when I had to find the courage to let them go.

To learn more about Kristin, please visit her website. You can also connect with Kristin on Facebook. Kristin’s IndieGogo campaign runs through June 5.

FTC Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, which means that I was compensated to feature this content. Regardless of payment received, you will only see topics on this site that I believe are of interest to my readers.

39 Comments on SoulSessions: Photography At the End of Life

  1. Susan
    April 16, 2015 at 4:32 pm (5 years ago)

    How lovely this service you offer is!

    I lost my kitty Zesty two days ago and while I took many photos, including after her life had ended, I would have loved to have them taken by so caring an individual as you are, so that we could have been photographed together.

    I wondered if taking such intimate last photos was wrong in some way, but while they bring tears now, I already cherish them. I captured some of my kitty Topaz as she said her last goodbyes to her ‘sister’ as well.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 16, 2015 at 4:52 pm (5 years ago)

      I’m glad you have those photos to comfort you, Susan.

      Reply
      • Kristin Zabawa
        April 16, 2015 at 5:03 pm (5 years ago)

        Hello Susan- I’m so sorry for your loss. It can be easy to feel that taking those pictures is somehow “wrong”- we live in a culture that’s very uncomfortable with the idea of death, and in working through grief. It’s good that your instinct guided you to take those pictures, and I hope they bring healing to you.

        Reply
        • Susan
          April 16, 2015 at 5:59 pm (5 years ago)

          Thank you so much!

          Reply
  2. Tammy
    April 14, 2015 at 5:20 am (5 years ago)

    What a wonderful post. Not only did I cry reading the story but through most of the comments as well! I’ve had animals all my life..dogs,cats,birds. I love them all and consider them my family. It is never easy to lose a child (that’s the way I see it ), but I really like the service you are offering, Kristin. I hope you are able to do this full time like you want.
    I will share this with all my animal lovers.
    Best Wishes

    Reply
    • Kristin Zabawa
      April 15, 2015 at 4:28 pm (5 years ago)

      Hello Tammy-
      Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s wonderful that the SoulSessions “word” is getting out there even more, thanks to Ingrid and many others! You’re right- wherever we find love, it is family, and I hope that my SoulSessions help to celebrate and deal with impending loss.
      Thanks for sharing with your friends and family. They can help without having to donate! Just go to that Indiegogo SoulSessioons link that Ingrid included above, and Share via Facebook, Tweet, e-mail, etc. Indiegogo pays attention to this kind of activity and may feature SoulSessions so even more people see it!

      Reply
  3. Louise K.
    April 10, 2015 at 11:39 pm (5 years ago)

    This is such a bittersweet post. I also took photos of my Tiger a few days before she was euthanized, knowing these would be her last. She was laying in the windowsill enjoying the sunshine.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 11, 2015 at 6:22 am (5 years ago)

      Those photos must be such a treasure, Louise.

      Reply
      • Kristin Zabawa
        April 15, 2015 at 4:34 pm (5 years ago)

        You gave yourself a real gift, Louise- many people, understandably, aren’t able to deal with that at the time when they know the last days are near. I’m sure those photos are a great comfort.

        Reply
  4. LadyBear1
    April 9, 2015 at 4:48 pm (5 years ago)

    I have photos of my beloved 15 year old chocolate lab during her final days and moments. While I still cannot look at the photos, they are vividly etched in my memory.
    Now I am guardian of two loving and beautiful cats but I do not think I could bear to take photos during the end of life period.

    Reply
  5. Sue Brandes
    April 9, 2015 at 2:05 pm (5 years ago)

    Very moving post. I would of loved to have photos of my beloved kitties.

    Reply
    • Kristin Zabawa
      April 9, 2015 at 5:36 pm (5 years ago)

      Thank you Sue- I appreciate your sharing this!

      Reply
  6. Will Hodges
    April 9, 2015 at 2:00 pm (5 years ago)

    Though I’ve only been a kitty parent for the last two years, and have not yet had one of our little ones pass on, I was so deeply touched to the point to tears while reading this post. This is a beautiful article and Kristin is providing a valuable service. Thank you Ingrid for your touching article.

    Reply
    • Kristin Zabawa
      April 9, 2015 at 5:41 pm (5 years ago)

      Thank you, Will. Part of my mission is to bring more awareness that this type of service is available. You can share this through the IndieGoGo link that Ingrid included with the article, either via the Facebook button or other means. You don’t need to donate to do this, and it would be a powerful way to share this with others!

      Reply
  7. Michelle S
    April 9, 2015 at 1:44 pm (5 years ago)

    I just love this even though it brings tears to my eyes. As I went to bed on August 29th of last year, I knew in my heart that the next day would be the last for my last FIV+ boy, Andybelle. I was stunned, though, that it was going to be one year to the day that I lost Cye (also FIV+).

    Just one week prior, the Vets called yet again after blood work to let me know that they were 99% certain that he had cancer of the liver and spleen. He was not a surgical candidate, so had been put on steroids and antibiotics for a month prior in the off chance that it was something else. I immediately started taking pictures of him doing the things that he most loved, and we even sat at the patio table outside on the day of that horrible call. I thought that we might have a month or more, not a mere week.

    On August 30th, prior to calling the Vet, we went outside again and this time Andybelle explored the entire yard as I followed and snapped pics. For a moment I thought that I might be wrong about that day, but it soon became clear that I wasn’t. We went back inside and as I gave him the sedative prescribed for “that day”, I told him that this was the last time I had to give him meds, and that soon he would be free of his pain.

    While the photos are priceless to me, I would have given anything to have more. If someone were there taking photos for me, it would have also given me more time to just “be” with him.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 9, 2015 at 2:00 pm (5 years ago)

      I’m sorry about Andybelle, Michelle.

      Reply
      • Kristin Zabawa
        April 9, 2015 at 5:45 pm (5 years ago)

        Hello Michelle-
        Thank you for sharing your story about Andybelle. It’s so good that you knew to take those photos. It doesn’t replace the actual presence of your Andybelle, yet I’m sure your photos bring the loving memories up and hopefully comfort.

        Reply
  8. DebiOco
    April 9, 2015 at 11:38 am (5 years ago)

    I also could not help crying as I read this. I’ve had many wonderful kitties during my life. Losing them is very difficult because they are my family and I love them dearly. I lost my sweet Cholla 2 years ago and the last kitty I will live with, Zoe, is 16 now. I call her my forever cat because I can’t bear the thought of losing her. Thank Goddess she is healthy and happy!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 9, 2015 at 1:38 pm (5 years ago)

      I cried while I was writing this post, Debi. I hope you have many more years with Zoe!

      Reply
  9. Meri Ann Worley
    April 9, 2015 at 11:21 am (5 years ago)

    Delightful article for some. I cried all the way through it. I regularly take pictures of my kitties and my heart holds the last image.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 9, 2015 at 1:38 pm (5 years ago)

      “My heart holds the last image” – I love the way you put that, Meri Ann.

      Reply
      • Kristin Zabawa
        April 9, 2015 at 5:48 pm (5 years ago)

        That’s a wonderful way to phrase this, Meri Ann. I would love to share that sentiment with others. It fills the heart!

        Reply
  10. Dorothy
    April 9, 2015 at 9:30 am (5 years ago)

    That is beautiful. I recently had to have one of my cats euthanized. He was seemingly fine one day and then clearly ill the next. I was shocked to learn that he had a tumor pressing against his heart, so there was no point in drawing things out. I took photos of him in the vet’s office. I felt weird doing it, but it was comforting, and I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 9, 2015 at 1:39 pm (5 years ago)

      I’m sorry about your cat, Dorothy – losing a cat so suddenly is so hard. I’m really glad you took those photos.

      Reply
      • Kristin Zabawa
        April 9, 2015 at 5:51 pm (5 years ago)

        Dorothy- you followed your instinct to get those photos. Not everyone remembers that this is an option. It can be easy to feel “weird” about it depending on the circumstances, but you followed your heart and now have those wonderful photos.

        Reply
      • Dorothy
        April 15, 2015 at 3:24 pm (5 years ago)

        Thank you, Kristin, for the kind words and for the service you offer.

        Reply
    • Dorothy
      April 15, 2015 at 3:23 pm (5 years ago)

      Thank you, Ingrid. I am, too.

      Reply
  11. Stephanie B.
    April 9, 2015 at 8:26 am (5 years ago)

    what a great idea I love this!

    Reply
    • Kristin Zabawa
      April 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm (5 years ago)

      I’m so glad you do, Stephanie! If you know of someone who would benefit from this, please go to my Indiegogo page and “Share”- you don’t need to donate to do this! Most of us know someone with elderly or ill animal family, or someone who knows someone…they don’t have to live in Oregon- this is a resource that they can request from local photographers.

      Reply
  12. Marg
    April 9, 2015 at 8:24 am (5 years ago)

    This sounds like a great thing to do. I did not know abut this.
    Anyway thanks so much for the nice birthday wishes from you three ladies. You all have a great day.

    Reply
    • Kristin Zabawa
      April 11, 2015 at 12:46 pm (5 years ago)

      Thanks, Marg, and happy belated birthday!

      Reply
  13. Janine
    April 9, 2015 at 8:00 am (5 years ago)

    I wish I had something like this when I lost my Nani. I did take some pictures of her the night before we lost her and they are treasures for me. I loved that girl so much. She was part of me. I still have a hard time thinking about her and it’s been three years since she’s been gone.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 9, 2015 at 1:39 pm (5 years ago)

      I’m so sorry about your Nani, Janine. I don’t think we ever completely stop missing these precious souls.

      Reply
      • Kristin Zabawa
        April 11, 2015 at 12:41 pm (5 years ago)

        Hello Janine-
        Our grief never completely goes away. You have those images of her to remember that love, and to hopefully help with healing.

        Reply
  14. Blanche
    April 9, 2015 at 4:44 am (5 years ago)

    So sweet. I am down to the last of four cats, Maestro who is 16 now, and I dread the day I will have to say goodbye to him. All my previous cats are now in Rainbow Bridge. Your article was so touching, and made me cry.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 9, 2015 at 1:40 pm (5 years ago)

      As I mentioned to Debi, I cried while putting this piece together, Blanche.

      Reply
      • Kristin Zabawa
        April 9, 2015 at 5:54 pm (5 years ago)

        Thank you for sharing this, Blanche.

        Reply
  15. Markella Vavaka
    April 9, 2015 at 2:24 am (5 years ago)

    Great article but made me cry. I have an elderly CKD cat and I can’t imagine myself saying goodbye to her.

    Reply
    • Kristin Zabawa
      April 9, 2015 at 5:57 pm (5 years ago)

      Hello Markella-
      It is so hard to even think of it. Sometimes just getting your camera (or cellphone camera) out to take some images gets you into another moment of loving your cat. Hopefully you do have plenty of photos!

      Reply

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