Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rest in Peace: Cristal Newell

This post has been a long time coming. But I couldn't find the words until the pain wasn't so fresh. I'm crying even as I write it, but the tears are healing instead of being filled with anger, confusion and all the emotions that overwhelm when someone you love suddenly dies.

My friend Cristal Newell passed away in September 2010. She and her husband Marcus were wheeling their 4x4 Jeep on a Colorado trail when a freak accident forced their rig over a cliff. Cristal, who was behind the wheel, was thrown and perished. Marcus himself nearly died when he ran down the cliff trying to reach her. Cristal was 33, the mother of Tristan and Liam and the owner of Mile High Mutts, the doggy daycare where I've been taking my dogs to socialize and play for nearly six years.

I can remember meeting Cristal when I wrote an article in the Denver Post about the numerous dog daycare centers that were popping up all over the Front Range. Out of the many owners I spoke with and centers I visited, there was something about Cristal's no nonsense approach that made her seem more real to me. I knew I could trust my dogs with her, my beloved Isis and Raina who were just about three months old when I started taking them to Cristal's center. Over the years, we became friends. She was the first person I turned to when something would happen with my dogs and her calm demeanor always kept the fears of this new doggie mommy in check. One of the last emails I received from her was a "OH NO YOU DIDN'T" retort when I told her I had gotten a third dog. She said I was crazy, but she already knew that, and I know she also understood my desire to want to rescue a dog because I still felt guilty about purchasing the other two at a pet store.

Cristal was hilarious, definitely one of my homegirls, and was always aware when I would come into the daycare downtrodden, probably upset over yet another dating relationship that bit the dust. When one of my bosses knitted a scarve and hat, I bought it knowing it would be perfect for Cristal because it would make her blue eyes sparkle even more than they naturally did. I felt honored when she told me it was her favorite and she would come to work wearing it.

A couple years later when I started my photography, Cristal and I bartered a month worth of free daycare for some free family portraits. My fans might recognize this photo of Cristal and her family that graces my business logo. There's was one of the first family portrait sessions I ever had, and it was great!

When I learned of Cristal's passing, it would be those photos that would help start the healing process for me and so many of her friends and family. I had given Cristal and Marcus a CD with all the images, but the CD couldn't be found. So I uploaded all the images to my website and gave the link to all her loved ones so they could download the images for free whenever they wanted. It was amazing to see my photos in such a different a source of relief and good memories in a time of sorrow. It really just impressed upon me that photographers aren't just shooting pictures, we are creating histories, a record of people's lives. Cristal was so alive and lovely in those photos and that's exactly how people wanted to remember her, smiling and happy with the people she loved the most.

Her family honored me even more when they printed out the images and included them in a collage that people could view during Cristal's funeral. People were coming up to me and saying "thank you...I can't tell you how much those photos helped me." They helped us connect and grieve together.

To all of my photography colleagues, please never forget the power of your imagery. Not just to win awards or the accolades of peers, but to be evidence that someone lived. Marcus has this photo of his family framed and hung near the door of the Mile High Mutts daycare center. Every time I drop off my dogs, I stop and caress this photo. I love you Cristal, rest now my friend.

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