Contributed by Jess Wealleans
I am Jess, a professional dog photographer. I also have dogs. My first dog, Ben, was 11. They don’t live forever – we know that deep down – but we just expect them to never pass. Ben got sick. The vet gave him a month or so, and said we should prepare ourselves, and that he would tell us when it was time.
Of course, I immediately set about doing a session in his home. I live in Lincolnshire with my other half, Tom, and our 2 Border Collies; Ben was back home with my grandfather in Yorkshire. We headed over the day we heard the news from the vet.
My boy was happy, greedy, playful. But it was the first time I had ever noticed how grey he had got in the face around his eyes and muzzle. It was the first time I had noticed how unsteady and stiff his legs were. How old he gotten, so fast.
I took over 300 photographs that day. I passed my camera to Tom, to get some photographs of Ben and I together. My hair wasn’t done nicely, I was wearing "dog clothes" and had been crying, but those photographs are hugely important to me.
I had an album made up straight away. They are not the best photographs I have ever taken. They won’t win any awards. But they are some of the most important photographs I have. They are invaluable.
There is an important moral to this story, Bens story. The photo session provided clarity. It provided reality. It provided memories. It provided truth. Cold hard truth. We, as a society, can get caught up in how much professional photographs, albums & prints cost.
It isn’t a cost; it's an investment. It's priceless. I can truly see that now.
It’s a memory, it’s a tangible item that you can hold onto for life, made so darn beautifully, preserving all those memories into one book.
Bens book has about 30 photographs in. It will be on my book shelf for the rest of my life. My TV won’t. My £1700 iMac won’t. My £2500 camera won’t. My car won’t be there that long. Neither will my iPhone.
I’m sitting here staring at that £1700 screen through blurry, tear filled eyes, with Ben's album on my lap, his grey aged face staring back up at me, and I’m thinking – why did I not do this sooner? How stupid was I.
I was teaching in Lincoln the weekend he passed. I heard the news when I arrived home. I reached for the album and hugged it so hard, sat down on the sofa and broke down. I was inconsolable.
I miss my yellow bear. My best friend has gone. He wasn’t a world-beater, he wasn’t a champion at any sport, he wasn’t well known or loved by thousands. He led a simple life. A love filled live. He was adored by me, and my family. That’s all that really matters in this world isn’t it? Not who you are or what you have, but if you can change someone’s life by just being alive, you’ve done pretty damn good.
That album is Ben now, and I will treasure it for the rest of my life.