*Photo credit: Scott Partington
When Your Goldfish Dies
© Wes Gow
Sammy is a Betta fish, actually.
Correction: was a Betta fish. My 4-year-old’s pet, to be exact.
Last night Sammy died, and I was faced with an unexpected dilemma: dispose of it quietly and inform my youngster later? Or tell her right then and invite her into the process.
My wife suggested the latter. I was fairly indifferent, probably because I was cleaning up dinner, but also because I didn’t really think our little girl would care.
I was wrong.
I stood in the kitchen at the sink while my wife went back into the dining room. I listened as she carefully and clearly told her that Sammy was dead, and asked whether or not she wanted to see him.
Chloe was in the middle of eating a small treat after a good dinner, and the first words out of her mouth were, “Why?“
She then proceeded to cry her little heart out.
She rallied, though, and helped me scoop Sammy out of his container and carry him outside, her 2-year-old sister in tow. My wife grabbed a few garden shovels and the four of us headed out to find a proper site.
We chose the small flower garden connected to our back patio.
My wife helped the two girls dig a shallow hole; I helped Chloe place Sammy inside. We covered it up, and both girls picked a few nearby petals to place over the site.
We prayed, and Chloe sobbed. Given our faith, I did my best to speak gently about God and life; about the world he created and what it has since become; about what Jesus accomplished and what He’ll return to finish.
In the fading light, Mommy and sissy went back inside to start the bedtime routine; I stayed there and held my little puddle of tears. I realized then that this was probably her first loss of innocence, her first painful discovery that life can really hurt, that sometimes bad things happen that you can neither explain nor control.
I thought of her question earlier, and a sobering thought hit me out there by the garden: I’m nearly ten times her age, and I’m still wrestling with that same question. “Why?” Most days, in fact, I’ll readily admit that I’m nowhere near a satisfying answer.
Today feels like one of those days. The last 18 months have felt like a whole bunch of those days. In my stronger moments, though, in the few and far between, I can dig down and find hope in a greater narrative that promises to right the wrongs and dry the tears.
I suppose that maybe my highest aim as a father is to lead our girls to that same Story, to a well that’s deep enough to handle the hurt. Because as much as it pains my heart to imagine for them, God knows there’s a helluva lot more out there than floating Betta fish, and that fact alone is both agonizing and comforting.