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Losing a loved one is never easy and the grieving process is a long and arduous road. 

Tom and Tonya Seiler, owners of Slikati Photo + Video, recognized that not all death practices work for everyone and were inspired to invite people to honor their loved ones in a less conventional fashion. 

Photos for the Dead is in its fourth year and is an event being held in conjunction with Missoula's Festival of the Dead. It is a free session for people to be photographed with items of loved ones who have passed. 

"There wasn't really a clear antecedent," Tom said of the event's origins. "I wasn't like, 'Oh, this person is doing this kind of photography, if we did it with people to celebrate their loved ones it'd be great.' It just kind of came together."

While the event is still fairly young, the Seilers have seen many unique items brought in to honor the deceased, from books and photos to jackets and animals.

"We request articles of clothing in particular because that just works well," Tom said of items that are normally brought. "Often times it's an article of clothing that the person who passed on has left...when we ask them to wear it, it's kind of a big deal."

For Kashya Boretsky, it was her grandfather Bernerd's hat they got together on a fishing trip in Florida.

Recounting the fishing trip with a smile, Boretsky remembers catching the most fish, but more so the time she spent with her grandpa.

"He was in a wheel chair most of the time but at one point I held his hands and we walked around the house we were staying at. It was a really cool moment" Boretsky said. "It was a really cool thing to see my grandpa super happy because that was his favorite thing to do and I don't think he had been deep sea fishing before."

Boretsky, who lost her grandfather in November 2015 after a long battle with Parkinson's, has a video of her grandparents dancing to their wedding song at their 50th wedding anniversary which she occasionally watches when she needs a smile. 

"He was able to dance with her and walk and he sang all the lyrics to it," Boretsky recalled. "It was just the cutest thing to see them so giddy together." 

While she has no special plans for the photos, Boretsky is glad she took part. 

"This was a very cool experience, I'm very happy with it," she said. "It's cathartic."

***

Michelle Brademeyer honored a best friend who basically was a brother. 

She remembers Zachery Hartley as a generous soul who would give anything to anyone in need. 

"One time we were going to drive to California in his car — I think it was his first car — and then he met this girl who was pregnant and didn't have a car, so he just gave her his car," Brademeyer said. "Then we hitch-hiked to California together. That's Zach right there, he always just wanted to help everyone else." 

Brademeyer said Zach committed suicide a little over a year ago and his passing remains fresh in her memory. She keeps close the last thing she saw him touch, a black and white trucker hat that says "Take this job and shove it," and thought the event was a cool idea to help her in the grieving process.

She says she's learned a fair share about death and herself this past year.

"Grief is not something you can stick in a box because it's so weird how different it is for everybody and what we have to do to get through it," Brademeyer said. "Or that it's not something you get through even, it's just something you keep moving with the rest of your life."

***

A small, brown wonder-book is all Jaime Benner needs to remember her mother and grandmother.

Benner lost her mother when she was young and was gifted the book filled with stories, including her favorite, Pandora's Box, by her grandmother Wilhelmena before she passed away in March. 

"It's stories that my grandmother read to my mom and that my mom read to me," Benner said, "I thought it would be a cool remembrance piece." 

Benner got the book after visiting her grandmother after her 30th birthday. While she doesn't remember hearing the stories as a kid, she certainly remembers that day she read them with her grandma.

"She sat down with me that night and read this book to me. I'm 30 and I sat on the floor with my legs crossed. She read the whole book" Benner recalled. "I was there for a long time. It was the coolest thing I remember." 

The two women were huge influences on Benner's life and their deaths have taught her to be OK with her feelings. Benner says that although it is not fun to grieve or be sad, it helps you grow to find a balance and understanding of your feelings. 

In years past, Photos for the Dead has been a one-day event, but this year sessions can be scheduled over two separate days — Nov. 1-2. Information can be found on Facebook or through slikati.com/dead.

This is the 25th anniversary for Missoula's Festival for the Dead with workshops and events being held throughout the week culminating with a parade down Higgins Avenue on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

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