It's time to acknowledge that, a few weeks ago, we lost our golden retriever, Penny.
You don't have to acknowledge it, but I do. Nothing for me is real until I write about it, so now it's official.
She was 13 and playing fetch until the day she passed, of natural causes, at home in my arms. She died resting in the very spot in the entrance hall where she guarded the house.
No golden is much of a guard dog, and Penny was the worst guard dog ever. And the best dog ever.
She loved everything and everybody. She was small for a golden, with bright dark eyes and a tongue as pink as a petal.
If petals slobbered.
She passed lying in the sun, which was as she lived. Always in the sun, this one.
She was special, but all dogs are special in their own way.
She was the daughter of Lucy, our big red golden retriever, and the half-sister of Angie, our middle golden retriever.
Yes, I'm one of those people who talk about their dogs like family.
Because they are.
But my point is that we got Lucy when Daughter Francesca was 8 years old, and when Francesca was 13, Lucy gave birth to Penny. We acquired Angie somewhere in between, so we had golden retrievers for almost 19 years.
The golden years.
The three of them frolicked around the house, snored noisily, chased Kong balls, swam like crazy, and jumped in the car for rides when they weren't begging for cake, bread, or leftover spaghetti.
Scottolines love carbohydrates.
They made a matched set of small, medium, and large, which was respectively Penny, Angie, and Lucy, on account of all that spaghetti. They roamed the house and yard like a furry trio, a doggie trifecta, or the Three Amigos.
We thought and spoke of them in one word, LucyAngiePenny.
Until they began to pass, one by one.
Only death could separate them.
Their remains are upstairs on shelves with those of our other pets, a row of small cedar chests that are displacing the books. Soon I'll have my own TV show on A&E, titled People Who Hoard Dog, Cat, and Horse Ashes.
It's not a home office, it's a home mausoleum.
I even save the sympathy cards that my wonderful vet sends me with the chests, because I actually find comfort in that stuff about the Rainbow Bridge, which I believe is right off I-95. And like a big dork, I posted Penny's photo on Facebook and Twitter, then cried my way through all the lovely comments.
It's the people who get us through the dogs.
In some ways, Penny was the hardest to lose, not only because she was the last, but also she was the baby of the family, born in this house, the smallest of Lucy's puppies, in a litter of nine.
Penny was the scrappy runt who grew into a charmer. Her full name was Lucky Penny.
And her passing is the end of an era.
Losing Penny taught me that we love dogs for their own sake, but we also associate them with the times of our lives, so their loss brings into relief our own passage of time.
The golden years were Francesca's coming-of-age, and my 40s and early 50s.
My coming-of-middle age.
Somewhere in between these wonderful dogs was a disastrous second divorce, so my memory of that time is one of happy golden retrievers and an atomic bomb.
And now, happily and sadly, all that is past.
I don't mind getting older. Actually, I love it. What I mind is losing things I love.
I love and hate surviving.
Which is the ultimate lesson, after all.
Loss is part of life, and becomes more so as we grow older. Life contains the bitter and the sweet, and eventually itself becomes bittersweet.
Still, I'll take it.
I'm a lucky penny.
Look for Lisa Scottoline's latest novel, "Come Home," and Lisa and Francesca Serritella's book "Best Friends, Occasional Enemies: The Lighter Side of Life as a Mother and Daughter." Visit Lisa at scottoline.com.