I cried when he brought lunch to me in our home office and told me our fish had died.
It wasn’t that I was particularly fond of that stupid fish. Fish don’t have much personality and I understand that they don’t have long a lifespan and that humans can easily ruin them if we’re not careful. I knew the fragility of life in the fishbowl when I bought him and I thought the risk was worth it in order to do something special during a difficult time.
That stupid fish was born out of my daughter’s death. That fish was a symbol of hope and new life while I grieved the loss of my newest child by taking the hand of my eldest so we could make a big deal about the choosing of our first family pet together in aisle three of the Pet Emporium.
For days and weeks, and—yes—even months I checked that fish multiple times a day for signs of life. I muttered curse words under my breath at the insanity of getting him in the first place when I was terrified that he would die, forcing me to hold my son’s cheeks and explain to him about death one more time.
I was secretly afraid that a dead fish would mean that I somehow failed.
But instead he told me matter-of-factly, “Fishy Coco is dead mama. Daddy ‘fushed’ him down the toilet.”
And he was totally fine with it. He never blamed anyone or asked why or even got upset. Things live and die; I guess he’s starting to understand that in a three-year-old sort of way.
I never imagined my small child to be so well acquainted with the concepts of death to the point where I didn’t need to be protective or smooth over the finality of it all. I never expected him to have the capacity to let go so easily.
Granted, losing the fish is completely different than losing a family member or a friend (or even a dog or cat), but it still surprised me – the ease in which he’s been able to embrace the reality of the other side of what we see now.
I’ve been crying a lot about losing baby Scarlett lately. For a long time my tears had dried up but recently I’m not sure that I’ve missed a day without tears blurring my eyes at some point while doing laundry or flipping through a junk mail catalogue, or driving to the grocery store, or thinking about nothing.
In bed last night I cried myself to sleep, sniffling under the blanket and wishing I was tossing and turning with my about-to-burst belly that should have been swelling near full term by now. (I feel robbed.)
There’s not much that I hate, but I do hate that life is not fair. It’s really just not fair.
And when I woke up this morning I checked to see Fishy Coco in his bowl, making sure that he at least was still alive – my little piece of life safely contained in a pretty glass bowl. Because somehow that stupid fish was wrapped up in my expectations of life sustained, and conquering the hard, and the balance of things being right.
Hours later and he was gone too. Stupid fish. Stupid fish that made me cry.
Levi often talks about getting a new baby that we can take home and he asks God to give us one that won’t die. He tells me that he’s sad that Scarlett died but that we get to see her in heaven one day. Then he asks if we will die soon so we can go there and I tell him, no, I don’t think so, but only God knows the number of our days.
“I think we will get a new baby, mama,” he says in earnest. And I pray that he’s right.
But really, I just want the one I already love.
Dear friends, have you had to deal with the subject of death with your little ones much? What have you learned?
P.S. I wrote this a little while ago now. And then a few days ago Levi said to me, “Wook mama! There’s a baby in your belly! I see it! Your belly’s getting bigger!” I chuckled as I explained to him that it was just my ‘woman pooch’ and I’ve had that thing far before I ever even became a mom. (But thanks anyway for the keen observation, son.)