As I went to put my daughters clothes away while she was at school yesterday, I noticed her pet fish lying upside-down among the plastic gems that decorate the bowl. We had an idea this was coming as I had found him (Dorothy was a Beta so he is a boy) a few times in funny positions down near the gems. I had called the pet store and they said he was getting old. They congratulated us for keeping him alive as long as we did because we had him almost a year and a half. I informed Twig that Dorothy was sick and that it was a possibility that she might die soon. That was a few weeks ago, and it seemed everytime Dorothy floated funny Twig would tap the bowl and Dorothy would swim around again. When I went in yesterday it was clear her swimming was over.
We got this fish for her for sleeping through the night without calling out. She earned her because she wanted company in her room. Dorothy was the first pet we ever had here as a family. Every Sunday Twig and I cleaned out her bowl. I would carefully move the fish to a cup and then empty the bowl then She would scrub the bowl. I would fill it, she would add the solution and the gems and then I would put the fish back in. This was her first introduction to responsibility and chores. Every morning it was her job to feed Dorothy and most days she didn't need any reminders.
Yesterday when I found Dorothy, I thought to get rid of her right away. It was a strange feeling being around death. Even in such a tiny creature, something felt odd about the spirit of it gone yet its body was lying limp in front of me. I quickly realized that it wasn't my fish to get rid of, and that my daughter needs to process this loss. It reminded me of when I never came home from England to go to my Grandmothers funeral and to this day I don't think I fully accepted she was gone. This was a very obvious remedy to that. Keep her in the bowl until after school.
As I left the house to get her at dismissal, I felt a wave of nerves through my stomach. I began rehearsing in my head how I would let her know. I let her play with her friends and dilly dally a bit before we walked home. When we got close to our door, I told her we needed to talk. She thought she had done something wrong and asked if it was good or bad. I said it wasn't good but it wasn't anything she did. I told her Dorothy died today and that I left her in her bowl if she wanted to see her. We walked in together and I watched her stand with her face close up to the bowl. She tapped it once, twice, waited, and then jiggled the bowl a bit. She did this a few times, and then I realized she wasn't convinced Dorothy wasn't going to swim. She repeated this as my eyes began to well. When she realized the fish was still she sobbed, her hand still on the bowl she had trouble catching her breath. I took her in my arms and my tears fell down my cheeks as hers fell down my chest. I held her and fought every urge to try to say anything to her. I though about telling her how lucky we were to have her this long or that we could get a new fish. Instead of trying to help her feel better I decided to just help her just "feel."
She did take this much harder than I expected but she really did process the loss. She went through her steps of grief and asked if we could keep her in a cup so she could still see her from time to time. I told her we couldn't but instead we drew a picture and wrote Dorothy a love note. I gave her a choice to bury Dorothy or send her to meet her family in the ocean by flushing down the toilet. We said goodbye to him and transferred him from one bowl to another. Before I flushed I asked to take a good look so she could always remember what he looked like. I reminded her that even though he is gone he will never disappear in your mind or heart.
Time does heal, and for children perhaps much less time is needed. She asked for a lizard this morning.