Sunday, February 22, 2009

When a Pet Dies -- Help please!

It's incredibly late; of all things, tonite, I watched our fish die and, of course, wanted to take care of it before I went to bed (and so the kids didn't have to wake up to the sight).

I know it's important to help children grieve. I don't know that I have it in me, but we gotta do what we gotta do. So I thought I would turn to my blogging friends for thoughts on what kinds of things (rituals, etc) might make this a little easier.

I responded to my daughter's request and included dirt in the garbage bag (since we can't bury the little guy, that was her alternative plan for 'burial' -- ah, the innocence).

Any suggestions would be appreciated. And condolences for the drama we will have around here tomorrow (er, later today).

13 comments:

Ardis Parshall said...

Yikes. How attached to this fish were your children?

I was 7 or 8 when my first pet, a cat, died. He'd been sick and at the vet's for a day or two. My parents brought him home and let us peek into the box so that we'd know he was really there, and we buried him under the lilac bushes. I remember how still he was, curled up in that box, and I remember crying, especially at night, for a while, but it was important for me to know that he was really there. I think that was better than having him just go away and never come home again, which is what happened with our second cat (he had to go to the vet's, too, and died there, and that time Mom just had the vet do whatever they do).

But I don't know that it would be at all the same for a fish, unless a child had been chiefly responsible for its care and had spent a lot more time interacting with it than I suspect most kids do with fish.

Good luck.

RoAnn said...

It is a hard thing when a pet dies. It seems to affect some children more than others.

When our children had pets die (fish, birds, gerbils), we had already explained that their life cycle was relatively short compared to humans; so we talked again about death being a part of life, and just had a simple burial in the backyard. No ceremony, just the burial. I'm curious as to why burial was not an option in the case of your fish. Do they now have regulations against that in the U.S.?

Cheryl said...

Oh, m&m, I wish I could help! We haven't yet had a pet die in our family (and growing up, we never had any pets). I know my husband did, though, and I remember him saying that usually they just got another pet and it would help.

Sorry I can't be more help!!

Proud Daughter of Eve said...

My condolences to your family in this loss. I'm not sure that I can say to help -- I was never that attached to my fish. I do know that pets know we love them. Since you couldn't have a funeral, maybe you can have a memorial? Put up a picture of the fish (if you have one) and everyone say a few words about why they loved the fish and that they're sad the fish is gone, they know the fish is happy with Heavenly Father?

compulsive writer said...

I have no advice, sorry. I kind of leave the ritual up to whatever child or children need it the most--sort of following their lead.

I don't think I will ever get over watching my daughter hold the dead body of our favorite bunny for hours and then go out in a snow storm all by herself--she is fiercely independent and wouldn't let anyone offer her comfort--and dig a grave in our flower bed. The grave is too shallow, but I just let her do what she needed to do. I offered to let her pick out some kind of plant to plant over the grave the next spring, but instead she made her own tombstone (it's a bit of an eyesore, but I'm leaving it) and left it at that.

Good luck! And may he rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Michelle,
we always just flushed them. I think pets are a good tool to teach kids that death and pain are just part of life.

m_and_m said...

Ah, it was so nice to see some support from friends. Thank you!

I must report that, even as attached as we all were to the fish, my kids actually handled it all a lot better than I thought they would. They woke up to see that the fish was missing, and were sad when I told them what had happened, but we were able to talk about how death was a part of life and they really seemed to process it well. I also think the fact that we had prepared them for this helped, maybe? (The fish had been declining for a while.)

I'm still reliving his last hour, though. As silly as it sounds, it was rather difficult to watch the life slowly fade during those last couple of hours. I really hoped hubby would be the one to do this! (Maybe I'm the one who needed the pep talk the most. hehe)

RoAnn,
In our city, my understanding has been that that they don't like animals in the ground because it can contaminate the ground water or something like that. I haven't looked into it seriously. The ick factor of having a decaying animal in my very small yard is big enough that I didn't push the issue.

Anonymous, had this been a little fish, flushing might have been an option. This goldfish was over 7 inches from nose to tail. I had visions of serious sewage issues if we had flushed him down the toilet.

He had such an interesting story, too. We inherited him from a ward family, who had gotten him when a neighbor young woman had received the little thing as an ask/answer dance thing. That family had no tank, so the previous owners took care of the fish, and it grew from 1 1/2 inches to be a very big fish (my hubby called him a carp, hence the name, Carpy Diem). :)

Kat said...

Sorry I didn't see your post earlier - we just had our 2nd betta fish funeral a few days ago.

Our funeral prep involves making a biodegradable "casket" (once an origami box, once a paper towel), which can be decorated. We gather natural materials from our yard and mix them (grass, flowers, lemon peel, etc.) and put some in the "casket" with the fish. Everyone writes a good-bye card, letter, or poem to the fish. We dig a hole.

Actual funeral: We stand in a circle and I welcome everyone. I read the verse from Genesis about God creating the fish. We sing the first verse of "All Creatures of Our God and King," and I remind them about St. Francis of Assisi, who wrote the hymn and who deeply loved all of God's creatures. We take turns reading our good-bye letters (except when our oldest daughter (the fish owner) is too upset, then she reads them in private later :)). We take turns sprinkling the grass/flower mix into the hole, then put the fish in, then take turns sprinkling more on top. We pray. My husband finishes the burying/cleanup.

A new fish is purchased within a few days. :)

SilverRain said...

I think the best thing is to let your children lead the disposal. Talk to them about death and mortality, and ask them how they would like to mourn the pet.

It sounds like you did just that.

Ginny said...

sorry carpe died and so glad your kids were ok with it. i was surprised how well my kids dealt with the death of our fish. they wanted to be the one to do the flushing!

m_and_m said...

SilverRain,
Actually, I threw him away myself. I couldn't deal with dead fish in the house until morning. :)

Kat, love your ideas. We have other fishies, so I'm still listening to different ideas....

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Sue said...

Wow, that's quite a goldfish. A BIG one. No wonder you felt bad, watching it sort of fade away. That's sad to see, even in a finny friend (as opposed to a furry one, I mean)!

As for burials, my family simply flushed our deceased fish down the toilet. However, it's safe to say that, had we owned a fish the size of yours, we would have buried it...because that's what we did with our lizard of the same size, Timicky, Not only did we bury him, but we did it up BIG, shoebox and all.

Timicky deserved no less. He was a good lizard. =)