The house is quiet. I miss the sound of quick little paws on the floor when I open the fridge or take down the leash from its hook. I keep looking for Henry, listening for his nose snuffling on the other side of a door. Henry was a dog who wanted to be part of things, who loved car rides and fireside naps and strolls around the neighborhood, who’d chase a ball for as long as anyone wanted to throw it. He was naughty, too, and had to be watched, and so I find myself still watching though there is no longer a need.

Our big dog is looking for him, too. He’s made of different stuff than the little guy. He’s handsome, leggy, with a rock-and-roll brindle coat and amber eyes, yet for all his good looks he’s a shy one. Mostly he likes being under the bed, though he loves a long walk and will float along beside me for miles with an easy graceful stride that couldn’t be in greater contrast to Henry’s jaunty step. His affections are quiet and his personality is reserved. His style is to lean his whole body in for a hug and remain there, unmoving, sturdy, his face pressed right up against you as though he’s looking for a way to be closer. Little kids are drawn to him, and when they approach he will brace himself, tail swaying, ears soft, and let them do whatever they like. He’s the gentlest dog I’ve ever known.

It was raining when Henry died, but after the vet left I went upstairs to get Oliver and take him for a walk. The sound of our footfalls seemed diminished, muted, and our pairing felt strangely lopsided without Henry at his usual post on my left. Yet the cold air braced me, the raindrops woke me up, and the exercise was a reminder of how necessary it is for me to play this nurturing role, to push through the tempting inertia of grief and look for sources of comfort and companionship. I’m so grateful we still have Ollie, who has always been the silent partner, thinking deep thoughts, as we like to say. He has let me cry on his shoulder more than once, but last night he called on us to rally, and loped around the room with legs splayed, rear end up, as if like me he’s experiencing these cycles of grief and absurdist comedy; I caught him sniffing Henry’s vacant bed this morning and sat down beside him to take it all in.

It’s hard to know what dogs understand. Hard to say what their experience of mortality and loss might be. I believe they live in the present better than most, so I’m trying to follow Oliver’s lead and allow the events of the moment to guide me. I have some projects at home to focus on, and cool damp walks to look forward to as spring approaches and the flowers start to bloom. There are tears left inside me and I know I’ll have to cry them out, but there is laughter already and joy ahead, too, and plenty of ways to share it.

So. We’re getting through this. And love is still alive.