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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Dying.

I contemplated how to handle it the whole way to work. I thought about it while AT work and I was still thinking about when I drove to my mom's to pick up my kids.

On my way out the door for work this morning, I threw my purse over my shoulder, grabbed my school bag, turned off the house alarm and then sprinkled some food in the fish bowl. The same things I   always do just before I leave the house. But as I turned to walk away, I noted that I did not see Nemo from the angle at which I was standing. So I moved and peered around to the other side. He wasn't there either. 

Had it not been 6:30 in the morning with all other members of the household sound asleep, I would've yelled so loud, what I frustratedly, quietly shouted in my head instead. "GRACIE!! YOU STUPID CAT!!"

So um, our fish died today.

Our 'Replace-the-fish-that-died-and-give-him-the-same-name-as-the-first-fish' fish..The fish we successfully pulled the wool over our kids' eyes with a few months ago. The fish we adults know as Nemo 2.0. The fish that replaced their very first fish, ever-a gift to them from their Grampa (Ponka) and Genise.

I feared this day would come- ever since I first saw that cat jump up on the counter and watch in a state of total hypnosis as the fish swam back and forth and back and forth. She sits up there when we're fast asleep and dips her furry white paw in that bowl and no doubt tortures poor Nemo till he's scared half to death, hiding deep within his plastic, green plants. Well this time, she won.

The moment I failed to see him, I instinctively looked to my feet half expecting to see Nemo lying on the floor gutted or chewed or poked to death. But I did not see him where I stood. So I walked around to the kitchen flipped on the light switch and there, lying on the cold ceramic tile was Nemo, dehydrated, literally stuck to the floor where he lay motionless.

It's a fish, Ami. It's just a little blue fish. None the less, my heart sank, because it's not just about me. It's about me bearing the weight of my kids' potential sadness and confusion. I grabbed a paper towel to scoop him up and wouldn't you know it, he wasn't even dead yet. His little fish mouth was opening and closing, gasping for water. So I placed him back in his bowl, knowing full well that he would be dead when I returned 11 hours later. As foolish as it must've looked, I actually apologized to that little fish for letting our cat get him. I'm pretty sure I even told him he'd been a good little replacement fish, and that our kids loved him.

And then I left.

And I pondered my next move all day.

Do we dare try and sneak a 3rd fish into that bowl in hopes that no one notices? Cuz really, how many times can you lie to your kids about their pets dying before you start to feel like a total schmuck? It's that internal battle between your heart and your head...Do you lie to preserve their feelings or do you tell them the truth because it's life?

Well we lied once, so this time, we decided to come clean.

When we got home from Grammy's, Brian scooped Nemo 2.0 back out of his bowl and placed him on a paper towel.  I called the kids out of the play room, telling them "I have something sad to tell you." (Pretty sure at the moment the only thing they were sad about was the fact that I paused their Cars Movie.) Nevertheless, they followed me into the kitchen where I took hold of Nemo's bowl and kneeled down with it so it was at their eye level.

Who knows exactly what I actually said at that moment, because all I could think was, "Say something profound, Ami. Don't mess this up. Don't mess this up or they'll be scarred for life."( I may or may not watch a little too much TV.)

And so, with my kids at my side, their little faces peering into the bowl, looking for Nemo, I said, "Nemo isn't in his bowl anymore, guys. Nemo can't swim in here anymore. He got sick. Nemo got sick and he.... he died.

It's hard to say those words to little kids. Even though they don't  understand it, they can sure as heck read between the lines.

Just looking at their little faces confirmed their confusion and as morbid as it may sound, I knew that they would need to see Nemo in order to better understand what I meant when I said 'he died.'

So I said, "Do you want to see Nemo?"  Hunter immediately said yes.  I took the paper towel with our little blue fish, held it in my hands and got back down so they could all see. There was total confusion and concern on their faces. Again, I said, "Nemo died. That means he can't swim in his bowl anymore. He's in heaven now. Nemo got sick and he died. But he doesn't hurt." (I consciously did not want to tell them that Gracie killed Nemo because I didn't want them to be afraid of her. )


Colton left my side and went just outside the kitchen, but Hunter and Ethan honestly did not want to leave it. The sad look on Hunter's face was awful. I said to her, "Are you sad? Mama's sad." Ethan kept trying to take the paper towel from me and hold it himself. He insisted on folding up the paper towel to cover Nemo up, much the way I do with with their blankets at night. It was really quite endearing.

Hunter even uttered the words, "He was a good fish, mommy." Brian and I shot glances at one another as if to say, "Well if that wasn't the cutest thing ever?!"

And then, I said, "Do you want to say good-bye to Nemo? Should we blow him kisses?" And some of us blew him kisses and others of us (Ethan) just blew ON him.  :)

And with that, I passed our fish to Brian (who inquired through closed lips just what I wanted him to do with it now) and that was that.

Back to the playroom they went, where life just goes on. Cuz that's how you roll when you're practically 3 years old, you know.

I honestly thought that would be the end of it, kind of 'out of sight, out of mind', but as I put the kids in bed tonight, though hours had passed since we said goodbye to Nemo, it became painfully clear that it was still on their minds.

Colton looked at me and said, "Mommy, Nemo not swimming anymore." This was followed by Hunter's explanations of "He got sick. He went to fishy heaven. But, but, he's a good fish, mommy."

And I tucked them all in bed, and listened for the next 10 or so minutes as they tried to process death and loss. And there I sat, trying very hard to say things they would understand. I thought I had done well until Hunter said, "But I'm not sick, mommy."

And that's when my heart sank.

"And daddy's not sick. And Ethan's not sick. And Colton's not sick. And Paper's not sick. And mommy's not sick, " she continued.

She's smart y'all. She's very, very smart. And she knows what it means to be sick. So much so that I could tell she was immediately seeking confirmation that no one else was sick and going to die.

SH#@!! Though I don't regret the decision to tell them the truth, I regret choosing that explanation. I looked at her at and said, "You're right, Hunter. No one else is sick. And getting sick doesn't always mean we die. Nemo was old. Sometimes when you get old, you die and you go to Heaven. But Heaven is a happy place. Heaven is where you go when you die."

And again she said, "He's a good fishy, but he died. He went to Heaven. But mommy's not died. And Daddy's not died. And Colton's not died. And Ethan's not died.....and on and on and on.

All three of them continued to talk about Nemo and how we said goodbye to him and how we blew him kisses. Colton said, "I'm sad." And I said, "Colton, mommy's sad too."

Though it's awful, and though I fear that I may have screwed them up a little bit, I believe it was a good life lesson. Pets die. People die. It's so hard to understand.  But I believe telling the truth about what has happened is better than making stuff up.

Uugh....parenting is hard.


Kim said...

Ami, you guys did a great job with the fish! It is hard - and Hunter is very smart! But you guys are great parents and these moments will make you guys stronger as a family. Nicely done! Dave

Danielle said...

I never thought about it, but it is going to be hard when I have to tell my little ones about this... But the way you did was well said and a great example , thank you for sharing. <3

Mrs. Lofgren said...

There never seem to be "just right" words for when someone or something we love dies. You did an amazing job explaining things to them and answering their questions!

Jeremy DeBauche said...

I agree with Danielle, I've never thought about how we'll handle that conversation with our girls when our cat (or future pet) is no longer with us. The fact that you put so much thought in to how you would explain it is just as important as what you ended up saying to them. That's what makes you guys good parents. You didn't mess them up. Death is something that everyone eventually has deal with. Your kids just got an earlier lesson than you probably thought they'd have. Think about it this way, it wasn't just a lesson in loss. It actually turned out to be a lesson in compassion and caring, evident by the thoughts and words your kids expressed throughout the evening :)

Sarah said...

Such a hard subject. I think you handled it very well. He was a good fish.

Diana said...

You handled that well and so did your children. I know it is a heart-breaker when Hunter started her questioning of everyone she loves being sick too but that is normal. She wants to verbalize her understanding and be reassured and you did a great job doing that. Well played!

Abbey said...

That had to be so difficult for everyone! I think you did great with how you approached it. Their little comments and faces were just too precious!

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