Dear Stella,

Here’s a picture from when you left a couple of days ago.

There’s a huge space left here now. Everything about you was big: your body, your personality, your presence.

Your heart.

When we left Idaho last month, I knew you wouldn’t be coming back. But as we drove through the early morning frost, out of the valley you used to run across and over the river you used to swim in, I didn’t cry.

And I thought I’d be crying, since this would be the last time you’d be in one of our favorite places. I asked out loud why tears weren’t streaming down my face, and a voice answered right away from somewhere inside me.

Who of us ever knows which time will be the last time?

Every day, every moment must be celebrated and lived as if we may not see another.

And that’s how you lived, with so much joy and energy and heart.

Yesterday, someone who loved you said we should all live like Stella did.

The world would be a better place.

Even at the end, when your body started to fail, your spirit was so vibrant. Your head was up and your eyes were bright and alert, like they’d been every day for almost 13 years.

From the moment I held you for the first time, to the moment I held you for the last time.

You were happy.

And you went down swinging.

I knew I’d be so sad when you left, but I didn’t know I’d be this sad.

Your arrival signaled the beginning of a golden era for me, and so many of the people you knew. Their kids grew up with you. So did I, in many ways.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end, like the song says.

And maybe I’m at the beginning of something new now.

But this ending is so hard for me.

I hope you’re running with Kona somewhere, across some endless, beautiful stretch of sand. Maybe we’ll all meet up again someday and you can show me around.

I miss you here, though.

I love you.

But you already know that.

I made sure of it.