We recently dealt with the loss of a much-loved pet at our house. Brandon, my oldest kidlet, came up to me and said, “Mommy, I think something is wrong with Swimmy. He’s really still and laying sideways.” I knew before I even went to the fishbowl: Swimmy, a goldfish, was dead. I admit, my first reaction was to put him in the compost and move on. After all, Swimmy was just a goldfish. But after giving it a thought, I realized that importance is subjective. Just because a goldfish wasn’t important to me, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t important.
Brandon won his fish friend at the fair and was beyond proud to bring him home, put him in a fishbowl and take care of him. He was in charge of feeding him, doing partial water changes and even decided to make his “home” nicer by adding blue rocks and occasionally showing off his Lego creations or stuffed animals to him. It helped teach him some responsibility and even though Swimmy was just a fish, Brandon considered him a friend. It was clear to me that my minimalizing Swimmy’s significance would be a mistake. It was time to plan a funeral. But how to you have a funeral… for a fish?
We started out by removing Swimmy from the fishbowl and wrapping him in a paper towel that was soaked in water. Why? Because fish love water and Brandon wanted Swimmy to be surrounded by his favorite things. I helped Brandon find a piece of wood that had been collected at the beach, washed up on the shore (which seemed appropriate). I offered Brandon an array of paint in different colors and encouraged him to make a headstone to place by the grave. He painted his name, along with a portrait of his favorite fish. Once it was dry, we walked the yard and Brandon chose a place (within the limitations I gave him) and then we dug a small hole, buried Swimmy and picked some flowers to lay on his grave. After asking Brandon if he wanted to say a few words, I saw he became very emotional and said he couldn’t do it. Instead of just letting that be the end of it, I gave a little eulogy.
We’re here today to say goodbye to our friend Swimmy. Swimmy was a good fish and a good friend. He loved the water and looked forward to eating every day. We’re going to miss Swimmy.
I realize the words I spoke weren’t fancy and might even seem silly to someone watching over our little funeral. But the important thing? It meant something to my son. While he was still pretty bummed out to have lost his fish, it gave him a little peace and some closure. He has a place he can go visit his friend, as long as he needs to. And it also let him know that what’s important to him is also important to me.