a few thoughts on burying your goldfish

There are parenting moments you prepare for. You read books, talk with other parents, research and form opinions. Breastfeeding. Potty training. Screen time. Discipline. Helicopter vs. free-range. Even before you hold your first child, you think about these things.

Then, there are other moments also common in parenting, that you give precious little thought to until they actually happen.
Like the day you look at the goldfish in his tank and realize he’s swimming funny, kind of lopsided and slow, and you know the end is near. The goldfish your husband won at a carnival. You hadn’t expected it to survive four days, but here he (she?) is nearly four years later, fat and proud. (S)he’s dying, and you have to tell the kids. Or do you? What if you didn’t tell them? Could you replace Goldie or quietly send him/her to a porcelain grave?
No, your kids are too smart for that. You have to tell them. You gather them ’round and show them the tank and explain the situation. Death is inevitable. Four years is a good, long life for a fish. We can be sad and happy at the same time.
They take the news well.
Hours pass and so does Goldie. You ask the kids what would feel right, and they request a burial. They paint a rock, a miniature headstone. You each say a few words and bury the fish under a mesquite tree. The service is brief, but poignant.
The next day the kids will visit Goldie’s grave several times, missing him/her and also admiring their artwork on the headstone. The day after that, they visit less. And the day after that, Miles will visit just once, but the dog will follow him outdoors, sniff the grave, and before the sweet four-year-old can stop him, your dog (the pet you once referred to as your eldest child) will dig up the goldfish and eat it.
The dog will eat the goldfish.
Your kids will be traumatized. They will scream and cry and yell at the dog. And they will run to you in anguish and recount what happened.
And I am telling you now what no parenting book will tell you. There is no suitable response when the dog eats the goldfish. All you can do is hug your children and tell them you’re sorry. There’s no way to fix it. You can’t make it better.
The four-year-old boy might suggest something gruesome. Can you guess what he suggests? He will remind you what happens to the things we eat and suggest waiting for Goldie to reappear in the yard. “We can just bury him again,” he’ll say.
No. Just, no.
Instead you’ll promise to dig deeper graves for the pets. You develop a plan, a family protocol for pet burials. The six-year-old puts it in writing:
2 feet deep.
Maybe more.
Use shovel.
But the headstone is still there, and the body is just a shell for the soul, you tell them.
And maybe the headstone could use a little more glitter and paint?
8 replies
  1. Margaret Anne @ Natural Chow says:

    Wow. Just wow. All was going well until the dang DOG ate the goldfish. Burying pets is never fun, but this story really made a deep chuckle come up from within me. I can’t imagine having to deal with children who just got over the loss of their pet, and now they find out it’s missing.

    Mama, you are one brave cookie.

  2. Mary Hill says:

    So funny and sad too. We have a pet graveyard on the side of our building in back where we have buried loved ones. My daughter lost her little dog a few years ago and was so heart broken. Life goes on afterward. I so identify with this. Thanks for sharing.

  3. ManicMom says:

    Pet burial protocol. That’s priceless. And your kid suggesting you wait for the goldfish to come out the other end … yeesh. That’s a kid devoted to his goldfish!

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