Every year Deb Chebatoris encourages Pet Memorial Sunday participants to provide photos of their pets and a written tribute of 50 words or fewer which are read aloud at the ceremony. I have a deep appreciation for the brief tributes each person has offered, and I love creating this memorial of words and photos that people can visit long after the day is gone. I share some of my favorite images below, and a link to the entire video is at the end of this article.
This year’s Tribute Scroll was one of the recent projects I recently finished which I mentioned in earlier posts. Pet Memorial Sunday was emotional for me after two losses this year, the first after 11 years. I managed to stay detached while I photographed the event and greeted families but had a few tears near the end of the ceremony and again as I created this year’s video memorial. Many of the non-pet photos and video clips were ones I took in the past 12 months and knew I’d use them for the 2023 Tribute Scroll video. This year it was a healing process to cull through those photos and remember what was happening with my cats at that time.
This year’s Scroll took me extra long, and the finished presentation is deeply emotional. I wasn’t aware of my own self as part of this but I knew each photo had to be just so, changing my mind repeatedly and shuffling images and text. In one instance, I had watched a series of colored leaves floating down Robinson Run along the Panhandle trail last October as they swirled into then tumbled over a tiny waterfall, submerged briefly, then floated back to the top. Such a metaphor, for a lot of things. I stood on the bank for quite a while, using my DSLR on video to follow each leaf’s progress as it floated, entered the waterfall, and rose again, knowing I’d use one of those for this project, while I was just concerned about Mr. Sunshine, before any losses.
I took this photo one May morning while out in the back yard with Mewsette and Mimi. I will always associate this set of dozens of photos of the cranesbill geraniums and buttercups with Mewsette and that time, those unknowing last few weeks we had. I remember framing many of the other shots with my camera, but not this one. I discovered it while creating this video. I did not include Mewsette and Jelly Bean in this ceremony in photos or tributes, but possibly this is image is my remembrance of Mewsette for my memory of that beautiful morning, and Jelly Bean too as I had sensed by that time something was up with him and was worried in the background.
The 21 families who composed amazing tributes this year wrote some amazing words, heartfelt, full of love and even joy at the memory of the animal companion they’d lost, and that made it highly emotional too. That’s far more than we usually have, and I had worked with the tributes as I made this year’s gift for each family who attended. But spending so much time on this video presentation really allowed me to enjoy the words as I integrated them with the pet’s photo.
How the Tribute Scroll came about
Until 2020 this was entirely an in-person event with three presentations, including mine. That year we recorded all our presentations and the event is shorter but families are prepared with the information from our presentations when they arrive; it was almost too much for visitors to take in. Deb reads the tributes, then we always have a dove release with a wonderful family of father and two sons who love their doves and the doves clearly love them.
The families who attend the ceremony always have a heartfelt thanks for the experience. A memorial of some sort with the pets’ photos and their people’s tributes was my idea of something in addition to the ceremony and other assistance to help her families and others who have lost pets. I know how much I love to revisit events and people who brought me comfort after one of my losses, and how just seeing a favorite photo can make a pet seem so close.
In 2010, after working with photo and presentation slideshows for myself and other customers, I proposed a few ideas for creating a memory from the annual Pet Memorial Sunday to offer something families could visit even after the day as a memory of the event and as a lasting tribute to their pet. As Pet Memorial Sunday drew near, I remembered listening to the tributes from past events and looking at the photos honoring each of the pets. Just being there with everyone I began envisioning a beautiful and reverent presentation of each family’s pet or pets and its tribute. This could be on the website, well, forever, or at least as long as the website is there. We’d do a new one every year, perhaps add music to make the experience feel loving and relaxing. Viewing it after attending Pet Memorial Sunday would bring the viewer back to that day and time and the sense of community we all felt during the ceremony, and help to ease the grief a little more each time.
I proposed it to Deb and she liked the idea too, and we asked families to provide a digital image of their photo if possible, so the Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation Tribute Scroll includes those photos and written tributes from families who have attended the annual Pet Memorial Sunday. In addition, Deb includes remarks and poetry, and we include that in the slides as well, and that’s where I include my images of nature.
I had initially only visualized the photos and tributes fading into one another, a pet’s image followed by the written tribute, but the idea grew as we worked on it. I use my photos of nature as the background to parts of the opening and closing, and each year we include a few photos from the event itself, especially the dove release. This year they circled for about five minutes before leaving, which they’ve never done before, so I had time to get several photos and a video; here there was a rainbow halo around the sun and at one point in the video the doves actually seemed to be following its curve.
Some families don’t provide a photo so I use images from my own stock of nature, flowers, butterflies and beautiful skies in the place of the pet’s image, somehow relating the image to something about the pet mentioned in the tribute if possible, and in time I set it up so the pets’ photos fade back and the tribute appears on the faded image. The presentation has become a pleasant mix of cats and dogs and birds and bunnies, and flowers, butterflies and sunrises and paths in the woods, and just enough from the event that it brings us back to that time.
As Deb’s “publicist”, I photograph all of her major events, and the slideshow also includes parts of the introduction and closing remarks from Pet Memorial Sunday along with a poem Deb chose to end with, and my photos of the memory tables and the dove release as well as sunrises and sunsets and peaceful scenes from nature.
We were initially going to use a piece of music either Deb or I would create or something we could find on the internet, but Deb knew a musician who agreed to compose original music for the production and we use it each year. This year she commissioned a new piece of music and the change was nice.
To view the Tribute Scroll
I have to warn you, get some tissues ready. It’s not sad, simply very moving to see these everyday pet photos and read the words of the families, sharing this experience even virtually.
From 2012 forward, Scrolls are an MP4 movie while prior years’ Scrolls are Flash slideshows and can be seen on the Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation website.
Please feel free to post any comments about the Tribute Scroll here. We’d love to hear what you think.
Also read my essays and articles on Pet Loss.
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