In May, we lost our family dog, Otto. His death was very sudden, and it has been a big loss for me, my husband, and our three kids.
Otto was a huge presence in our lives. He was a typical goldendoodle – big, happy, and overly friendly in the most lovable way.
Otto was my husband Tom’s daily companion — his shadow who followed him throughout the house. He sensed Tom’s gentle personality, and Otto would often nudge his arm off the desk to get some extra attention while Tom was working.
To me, Otto was a gentle soul who came to comfort me when I was tired or anxious. He’d accompany me on long walks or runs, and was a calming companion and buddy.
Although my oldest son Ben was not living at home for most of Otto’s life, his visits were always greeted with the same enthusiastic greeting that Otto gave the rest of the family. When Ben would throw a lacrosse ball or a frisbee to him, Otto enjoyed the chase – yet he was completely uninterested in returning them!
Anytime my daughter Molly came home from college, Otto always slept near her. He would lay his head on her bed as a way of asking permission to jump up on the bed for some cuddle time.
Otto also helped my son Sam through some tough teenage years, when he was having a hard time in high school and was struggling with health problems. Otto kept Sam company during many sleepless nights.
Since Otto died, our photos of him have helped our whole family grieve. When we look at pictures of him, his joyful life and personality comes back to us. We can remember all the things we did together, we can recall wonderful happy memories, and we can tell stories and laugh as we remember Otto’s amusing antics.
I’m so glad we have a big collection of photos of Otto, so we can remember him as he was in the prime of his life – happy, attentive, and loving.
And as my family looked at old photos of Otto after he died, it got me thinking about the part photos play in our grieving process.
How Our Photos Help Us Grieve
When we lose important people in our lives, our photos can bring back memories of them, and help us remember everything that made them special and unique. They help us keep that person alive in our minds, through stories and memories — and that’s an important part of making sure our loved ones’ legacies live on.
When we lose people (and pets!) who are special to us, we often tend to dwell on how they died. If the person was sick for a long time with a terminal illness, the memories of the person’s health struggles often stay first and foremost in our minds when we think of that person. Or if we feel any guilt about the person’s passing, we often focus on that.
We can get a kind of tunnel vision for the end of a loved one’s life — which is a totally normal and common experience.
But this is where our photos can help. Photos bring our loved ones’ whole, complete lives back to us – not just their passing.
Our photos can remind us of:
- The unique way they lived.
- Their personalities, passions and hobbies.
- How they impacted our lives, and why they were so important to us.
- The memories (and moments) we most want to remember when we think of them
3 Ways Photos Can Help You After You’ve Experienced a Loss
1. Looking through photos after you’ve lost a friend or family member.
It can be healing and helpful to look at pictures of the loved one you’ve lost – whether it’s one day, one month, or one year after he or she has died. It’s healthy to hold on to old memories — you don’t need to cast them off in a forced effort to “move on.”Spend time going through old photo albums or image files, and reflect on the happy and memorable times you had with your loved one. Reminiscing can make you feel better when you are missing your loved one, and sharing stories and photos with your family and friends can help keep memories of your loved one alive. That sharing process can also help you work through your grief.Don’t forget to tell the funny stories, too – laughter can be healing!
2. Displaying your loved one’s photos.
My clients often ask, “Is it okay for me to display photos of my deceased friends or family members?”People often shy away from putting photos of people who have died into their albums or frames, but sometimes it’s far more painful to rid your house of all photographic evidence of these loved ones.It can be healing and comforting to have photos of people you miss around your home. When you’re trying to choose photos to display, the key question you should ask yourself is, “Does this image bring to mind a happy or sweet memory, or does it just make me feel sad?” If the photo makes you feel happy or eases your grief, think about displaying it in one of your albums or frames. If not, it’s okay to keep the photo in storage for now.
3. Memorial tribute videos
A slideshow tribute video, made up of photos of a loved one, is a lovely and meaningful way to say goodbye to a friend or family member during a funeral or memorial service.As part of our services for Picture This Organized, we often work with clients to create tribute videos.If you’re creating your own tribute video, remember that the main purpose of your video is to illustrate how the person lived.Select photos that share the person’s hobbies, passions, and interests, and showcase the friends and family members who were most important to him or her. You don’t need to represent every person in the deceased person’s life (or every moment they lived) – you just need to show the highlights.We typically arrange the tribute photos chronologically, starting with baby photos and moving up through present day.Need to know how long to make your tribute video? If the video will be shown during the service, then 6 to 8 minutes is plenty. If you will be showing the tribute in the background during a reception or other gathering, then you can make it longer.
The Healing Power of Photos
When we’ve experienced a significant loss, our photos are more than just snapshots of the past – they can be a powerful tool for helping us grieve, memorializing our family members and friends, and reconnecting us with meaningful moments.
Of course, you should always be gentle with yourself during a time of grief. Losing a loved one is incredibly hard, and the healing process can look very different for different people.
Do you have a story of how photos have helped you deal with a loss in your family or community? Tell us about it in the comments.