Loss of a furry family member

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.



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Outpouring of sympathy, advice follow death of young Missoula girl

One of the remarkable things about Missoula is how we react to tragedy. I’ve lived in other places where people were not so quick to offer their heartfelt sympathy and support. I love that Missoulians, confronted with the worst possible kinds of loss, somehow find a way to respond with the best of our humanity.

Such was the case in September when a little girl, only 7 years old, was killed in a traffic accident. She was riding a mini motor-bike across a pedestrian crosswalk when she was hit by a pickup truck.

My heart aches for this family I’ve never met. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been especially diligent, in the past few weeks, to talk about – and model – safe road behavior with my child.

In fact, the Missoulian has printed two letters to the editor on the subject.

Here’s Margrit Syroid’s Oct. 6 letter:

It was so painful for all of us to hear and read about, recently, of the tragic loss of that lovely young girl in the traffic accident. It made me think of a practical lesson my mom taught us. When you have to cross the street: 1. Stop. 2. Look left. 3. Look right before you step into the street.

Please, parents and teachers, practice this with your children until it is imprinted in their little brain computer. It lasts a whole lifetime.

With my condolences to the family.

And here are Barbara Chamberlain’s comments, which ran in yesterday’s paper:

I also, as I’m sure there are many, feel bad for the family of the little girl who was killed in the terrible traffic accident.

I have a saying I was taught as a little girl growing up in Michigan. It goes like this: Stop, look and listen, before you cross the street. Use your eyes, use your ears and then use your feet.

I have never heard that here in Montana. It would be a good one to teach the children here, as I have thought about it many times when I see someone cross the street without looking.

Stop, look and listen, before you cross the street. Use your eyes, use your ears and then use your feet.

Got it.

– MM

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Life and death and a fish and a frog

Regular readers may remember the story of Flower the Fish, a beautiful blue “mermaid fish” that came to live at our house and hatched out of a chestnut.

She died.

Willow did everything right. We cleaned the tank regularly and did the 20 percent daily water exchange. We took care to distill and condition the water perfectly. We got a tiny heater so the water temperature would stay in the green safety zone, and Willow was religious about checking it. She fed her every day, just a pinch of two different kinds of betta fish food.

That fish had the best two months of its life, I tell you. Then one day, it just looked a little … listless. I went to bed really worried; Willow wondered about taking her to the vet. In the morning, it was clear no vet would be needed.

My little sweetie took the news very well. She was sad, of course, and wanted to bury the tiny blue body. Thinking of the very real possibility that the dogs might dig it up, I tried to steer her toward a funeral flushing, but she was set on the idea. So we said goodbye, plastic shovels in hand, under the boughs of the giant pine tree in the back yard.

That was last week. Last night, after coming home late, I found TWO little plastic baggies of water perched on the table in the living room. Willow and her dad had gone fish shopping.

She named the pinkish-red betta Floppy. His companion is a water-loving frog no bigger than my thumb named Jumpy.

So goes the cycle of life in a 5-year-old’s bedroom.

– MM

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