It’s hard to know where to begin.

Our sweet, loyal, lovable black Labrador, Harley, died of cancer a couple weeks ago. We’re not sure exactly how old he was, but we’re guessing around 13.

Harley arrived at our family already named and all grown up, having spent his puppy years with a great family who trained him with military precision. When that family got re-stationed, they gave us Harley with the understanding that we would give him a great life doing the things he loved – being outside, playing with other dogs and, most of all, being smothered by children.

I’m proud to report that we gave him all those things.

Harley pile

And in return, Harley gave me another watchful eye over the kids. He gave the kids his protective presence at night, when he would lie at the foot of their beds and keep the bad dreams away. He gave my husband a buddy who was always up for a hike through the woods or a weekend camping trip. And he gave us all what all the best dogs do: constant love and affection.

It’s hard not to feel the absence of that.

I still expect to see his smiling face and wildly wagging tail whenever I come home. I haven’t been able to bring myself to put his food bowl away. But hardest of all is watching my kids grieve his absence.

My oldest is a fierce animal lover who has had Harley by her side for most of her life. She has cried and cried, and told stories about her memories of Harley, and been open with her feelings of loss and sadness. Her friends have been supportive at school and amazingly kind and considerate at home.

My son, however, is a couple years younger and still learning how to express his emotions in healthy ways. He also happens to be very good at suppressing any bad feelings, so while I know he is also grieving, it comes out in bursts of poor choices. We’re working on that.

If I was forced to say one good thing about cancer, it’s that it at least gives you a little time to say goodbye. The kids got a chance to do that – to take Harley for one more camping trip, one more walk to the park, to give him one more spoonful of peanut butter. They got to give him one last hug.

But we’re all still learning how to let go.

Harley