(By Francie W. Gannon)
The Honor Project is a series of 13 paintings of dogs and cats who have passed away and it is my method of honoring their spirits, giving them a voice and letting them know they mattered. Stop by the Wilds Studio at 30 SW Century Drive, #120, Bend during September and October and you can spend time with these beautiful canine and feline beings.
What I didn’t expect was that they would communicate with me as soon as their images began to emerge from paint.
For instance, Benny was an innocent pup with such sweetness and love exuding from every pore. He wanted nothing more than to share all that bounty. He was so trusting. Button was another pup but very shy. He didn’t understand what was going on around him. He needed his mother or a nurturing influence to help him blossom. Farley, the cat, was so proud of himself. He was having a great life. I got the feeling he thought he was on top of the world. Each one of these precious pets perished with their only crime being found homeless, a stray on the streets or unwanted.
But it was Queenie who ripped me open to their suffering. She was a stray who ended up in heart experiments at a Michigan University. Her medical records were devastating. As I painted her bits and pieces of her experience would float into my awareness. That night Queenie and I shared the dream state. I held her, whispered words of love and thanked her for her life. She gave me a feeling of contentment, an embrace of warmth and love. Several times I awoke with Queenie foremost in my mind. I traveled back and forth, remembering her life in the lab and where she was next, in spirit form. It was like we were braiding something together, the past and present, finding a way to bring light and healing to the molecules surrounding her tragic life.
During this time I came across a quote from Ram Dass. He said “you have to have suffered because suffering is what burns through you and deepens the compassion and opens the door. Suffering brings you closer to the mystery. At the same moment if you hold onto the suffering and wallow in it, it stops the journey.”
Queenie and the others taught me how to balance on the knife’s edge between suffering and compassion. They taught me compassionate neutrality.
What happens to a dog and cat after they die? Do they have souls? I believe they do. I felt their presence in their portraits. They mentored me during the painting process.