This past weekend my family held its first ever pet funeral. A touching homage to Crystal, my daughters newly acquired Chinese fighting fish. (If ever there was a reason not to give a kid a fish as a party favor, this would be it…fish die…more than they live.) Crystal came to us, one of three fish (one for each of my children), as a birthday party ‘goody bag’. Equipped with her own little fishbowl and a colorful, gravely carpet, she seemed like the perfect accessory for my seven-year old little girl. As a bonus, on the way out of the pet store party place, one of the employees informed my daughter she had inadvertently received a beta fish, (worth more money), and was told the fish would live for at least ten years. My daughter is the kind of kid who takes information, squirrels it away for a rainy day, and then uses it to her advantage when the time arises. (I’m thinking law school might be in her future.)
So it came as quite a surprise when Crystal turned up dead in her bowl thirteen days later; cause of death: unknown. Thankfully for me, Crystal was a D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate), so my fish lip pucker wasn’t required. After having a forensic review with the children, we were completely unable to come up with any evidence as to what or who may have killed our new family member. The water was clean, there was food in the bowl, everyone in the family had an alibi that night (we were all sleeping), and so it remains a mystery. My daughter, however, recalled quite clearly her fishes ten-year life expectancy, and is now gunning for the kid at the pet store.
I had to remind her that in times of grief it’s not unusual to want to bestow blame or anger on someone else. I encouraged her to express her feelings and get it all out. What I didn’t expect was my four-year olds reaction when he learned of Crystal’s untimely end. The tears came freely for him, and I returned his grief with hugs and kisses. So much for a toilet flush funeral, it was obvious we were going to have to go all out for our gal Crystal; it was time to open: The Pet Cemetery.
My kids have been to a pet cemetery before, (No, not the Stephen King kind), a local one at an old manor house along the Hudson River. It is a peaceful place in the woods where several of the owners of the house had buried their beloved pets, and carved touching epitaphs honoring their memories.
My children rallied together, a band of broken hearts, with their shovels, rakes and picks, and got to work locating a beautiful spot adjacent to the woods, under a big oak tree, bordering the edge of our property. They dug a shallow grave, collected branches of softly changing leaves, and picked flowers growing wildly in the yard. A tombstone was chosen; it was grand and coated in delicate green moss; old worldly, and elegant, propped against the tree, it marked the final resting place of our fish Crystal.
When all the preparations were finalized, the children summoned my husband and me to the site of interment, where each of us were directed to say something positive about our too short-lived fish family member. We closed with a Hail Mary, gently dropped the fresh dug earth back onto the fish, and encased her tomb with a crimson coat of leaves and flowers.
Tears were wiped, and a reception followed in the kitchen; all in all a beautiful ceremony.
And so it begins, our children’s introduction to death, but also their instinctual need to bury their dead with dignity and respect, for life IS precious, even if you are just a fish.
Today I woke up and found Ember, my oldest son’s fish, dead at the bottom of his bowl.
I think we might have a serial killer in the house!