Pain and grieving—how storytelling is helping me through it (Chuck and Kitty).

On a recent Facebook Live video, I expressed some mighty heavy emotions regarding the loss of our precious Yellow Lab Travis, who has been with us on this journey for 16 years. Through this process of grieving, God’s presence has been strong, and I’m being blessed with some clear messages like these:

  • Pain can’t be negotiated with.

  • The best thing I can do is sit with the pain. Feel where it is in my body.. Own it. Allow it.

  • Then, it helps me to connect with others. To do my creative thing. To go out into the streets and engage with others, while listening to the similarities of our stories.

So, the day I recorded that Facebook Live video, I grabbed my camera, hopped on the Vespa, and went over to the University of Texas campus. I captured stories and images from four people. Today I’d like to share that of a very courageous man.

Meet Chuck and his friend Corporal Kitty.

Chuck is no stranger to pain.

Are you ready for this? He did tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. When out on patrol in Iraq in 2005, he and several other soldiers rounded a corner and were immediately hit with a massive improvised explosive device. All of the men ahead of him were decimated. So gruesome was the carnage that Chucks face and body were actually lacerated by bone fragments from his friends ahead of him. He was blinded immediately, and left with little chance of living. Somehow his broken body was put back together.

The pain didn’t stop there. He has had two heart attacks and four strokes since his tour of duty. He has severe PTSD from his experiences in combat.

But he survived. And survives. And presses on.

I told Chuck about the loss of our dog Travis, and how I am using my love of visual storytelling to connect with people and to walk through the pain. I asked him about his relationship with pain and loss.

“I don’t like to take pain meds and psych meds,” Chuck said. “I like to feel who I am. I cope by holding my dog “Kitty”. Holding him makes all the bad things go away. I love him so much. We are all we need. He helps me be in the present.”

Chuck teared up with empathy for me and reminisced about his previous guide dog who meant so much to him.

Chuck will soon have open heart surgery here in Austin. “Corporal Kitty” will be at the hospital by his side.

Our Creator means for us to connect with others in times of need.

It was so hard for me to grab my camera and get my butt out the door yesterday. To go capture some stories. But, I did it. I participated in my healing by acknowledging it, sitting with it, and then taking creative action with it.

As a result, I feel like I have captured such a precious story of survival. I met a guy and his service dog, sat down on the sidewalk with them, and experienced another soul’s pain. Instead of making me sad, it makes me grateful for how honest sharing and connecting is our embedded machanism for coping with loss.

I’m so grateful for my camera, and for God’s creative gifting. They are an effective means of healing for me.

Thank you for helping me, Chuck.


Joe Van Wyk
Austin, Texas
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#yourstorymatters #street portraits #visual storytelling #mindfulness #streetphotography #homeless #joevanwyk