Kimberly messaged me and asked, "Katie, I don't know who else to ask, can you help me figure out the right photo for Emil's obituary. I have a few here, but none of them are great, can you help?" Of course my immediate answer was, "No problem. Send them all over, and I will look and see what I can do!"
It's not often I get a request like this one, however in the last few years I have put together obituary images, created funeral slideshows, and just walked alongside friends as they are grieving in any way that I can.
I knew Emil loved Kimberly. I could tell in the way she spoke about him and I could see it in the way he looked at her. I had been to their house a few times before, and I can clearly recall the first time I visited them. As I was welcomed into their home, I distinctly recall passing by photos of Kimberly on the wall, while Kimberly explained, "oh, Emil took this of me while we were vacationing here. He took this one while we went to visit our friends from there. Emil loves to take my picture."
So when I had a last minute spot open up for a sunset shoot earlier this spring, I knew that Kimberly was the perfect person to ask. I know the transformative power of a photo shoot, how it can help you get off the couch and out of the funk you're in, with a gentle nudge when grief seems to be pressing in from all around you. And I knew that it was something beautiful that I could do to help honour Emil's memory.
When she arrived at Park Lake, I remember she seemed smaller in spirit than I had seen her before. The grieving process is often parallel to that of the mythical Phoenix's journey. Where once a magnificent creature loomed, with the extinguishing of it's flame, all that remains are ashes. From the ashes is born a new, similar, yet different creature. A phoenix, but remade. I knew Kimberly was still emerging from those ashes.
We began her session, and I could see her spirit lift as I asked her to dance around in a circle, a skill which she is very talented at might I add. We walked through the sand, the mud, and into the water. She was up for anything. When you are faced with how finite time truly is, you let go of a lot of inhibitions that once held you back.
Her smile grew as the sun began to set. She stepped out of her grief, if only for a brief moment, and into remembering what made her soul sing: nature, the warmth of the sun on her skin, and a laugh with a friend.
As I edited these photos, I could feel Emil's presence. I could see clearly in my mind his big smile that he would have had if he would have gotten a chance to see these images. Somewhere out there, I knew his spirit was close to Kimberly's, connected with her in a new way now.
After our session I asked Kimberly, who is a powerful motivational speaker, and absolutely compelling writer, if she would share her thoughts on our session. I thought it might be cathartic, and perhaps a good way to process the emotions that doing something for the first time without a loved one can bring on. She went home and wrote the following:
"My husband Emil died 6 months ago. He was amazing, infuriating, brave, tender, a free spirit, and my
biggest fan. He believed in me so deeply and completely, and never lost faith in me even when I lost
faith in myself.
He believed that I could inspire the world.
We weathered many storms together – the heartaches and the cruel punches of life. We also
experienced many magical moments and the purest joys. He was my rock and I believed that there was
nothing he couldn’t do. He took care of me through my worst struggles, and when he got sick, I took
care of him. Our last seven years together we navigated doctors and surgeries all over Canada,
celebrating the wins that kept him alive, and preparing for his life to end when the last specialist said
“There is nothing left that we can do”.
I know how incredibly loved I was. We left nothing unsaid, and I know that he wants me to soar. But it’s
hard. It hurts. And here, at this 6-month mark, I am weary from learning how to live my life without him.
Losing your life partner is more than losing your person. It’s losing all the dreams you had for your
shared future and mourning all the experiences you will have without them. It changes every single
thing you do, from what you cook for dinner to how you spend your days. It makes you question every
decision you make moving forward and forces you to figure out who you are now that you are ‘me’
instead of ‘we’.
The day we took these photos was one of the hardest I’d experienced since his death. I was at my
lowest. Then came Katie’s call to take sunset photos on the beach… something he had always wanted
me to do.
For a few magical moments it was like he was back beside me and I felt whole again.
Emil always said that life is an adventure. Even in my grief I am surrounded by beauty. It shines in the
lessons I am learning as I move forward, and in the love my friends, family, and community have given
me. I am discovering the true depth of my strength and courage as I learn how to smile through my
tears. Life is ever beautiful.
Our chapter together was everything that a great story should be – full of love, adventure, laughter, and
loss. It’s up to me now to write the next chapter in my life and to make it a good one. There’s nothing
worse than a great story with a disappointing ending, so I will find new adventures to fill the pages.
Our paths aren’t always easy to walk, but they are so worth it. We just have to keep taking one step at a
Thank you, Katie, for holding my hand at several stops along my journey and for filling my heart with
hope for what comes tomorrow. You’ve helped me to see what is, and what can be."
As I read these words again, for easily the dozenth time, I am still brought to tears. The love they shared was unshakeable, and even from such a distance, I can still feel it.
So Kimberly, if you're reading this, thank you for stepping off your couch that evening and allowing me to do something for you that I know Emil would have loved. Thank you for finding the strength to allow yourself a moment of joy in what feels like a sea of sorrow somedays. You are one of the strongest women I have ever known. They say grief is just unspent love, and I know your heart is filled with love for Emil. As the date of his passing gets further away, may his memory draw your soul in closer to his, wherever it may be.