Life is Sticky. Life is Sweet.

Life is Sticky. Life is Sweet.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The D-word (Part Three)

Two notable things happened in the beginning of April.
We started a blog and my son's first pet died.
Launching a blog with three posts about death isn't exactly what I planned, but that's what happened. The previous posts are here and here.

Will meets Tank on his fourth birthday.

We came home from visiting family two Sundays ago with our arms full of Easter candy and tired babies. I ran upstairs to grab pajamas for the kids and I couldn't help but notice Will's fish bowl. The water was cloudy and Tank was swollen and swimming on his side.

I sent Bill up to take a look. I hadn't wanted to get Will a fish in the first place. I never had pets growing up and the idea of cleaning and feeding another living thing on a regular basis just wasn't too appealing. When we made the purchase, it was decided that Bill would be in charge of all things pet-related.

"Not good", was his assessment as he came back down the stairs. He had taken a look and changed the water, but he felt that Tank's hours were numbered.

We explained to Will that Tank was sick. Will considered the situation seriously, staring at the water and asking questions before we tucked him in for the night.

"Is Tank going to die?", he asked.

We answered him honestly, telling him that Tank was very sick and that he might get better and he might not. We assured him that we had done everything that we could do and that we would check on him throughout the night.

Within an hour, poor Tank had sunk to the bottom of his bowl.

Bill flopped down on the couch next to me so we could come up with a plan he could watch the latest episode of Pawn Stars. (Don't get me wrong, Bill is 100% involved in our parenting decisions. It's just that he knows that I tend to change my mind at least twenty times before we're set on a plan.)

Our initial plan was this: Bill flushes Tank. Will wakes up the next morning. We explain that we sent Tank out to sea... to get better with his family. (Any kid that's seen Nemo knows that 'all drains lead directly to the sea'.) This seemed like the best choice. We'd spare our four-year-old the death of his pet and give Tank a happy ending. Although this seemed like the most positive option, it wasn't sitting right in my gut.

So I Facebooked. And Googled. And Twittered. It seemed as if most people, including the pros, thought that honesty was the best policy. Losing Tank might be a valuable life experience and lying to Will might only confuse him and impede his development.

It was hours later and in retrospect, Bill might not have been fully awake when I explained all of my findings to him. I felt that we should be truthful and supportive. Flushing Tank would probably not be a good idea. Maybe we could bury him in the backyard. Bill seemed to agree. I mean, he did say 'okay' a bunch of times.

The next morning, I was making pancakes in the kitchen and Bill was in the family room with Liam. Will came down the stairs and I could hear him ask, "Did Tank die?"

And then... Bill launched into the Nemo story. Not the plan. Well, the revised plan anyway.

"What?", Bill said as I bounded into the room. Will was sitting on the couch staring at us and it was pretty evident that we did not have our story straight.

Will began crying and saying that he missed Tank and that he didn't want him to be in the ocean. He wanted Tank to get better with us.

Bill got up and signaled that I was a crazy lunatic person I should just take over.

So, I did my best at damage control. I explained to Will that we didn't want him to be sad or upset, so we were planning to tell him that Tank went to find his family. Then I told him that we changed our minds because we knew that he was a 'big boy' and he would understand. So I told him that Tank was sick and couldn't get better. I told him that Tank had died.

It seemed that he was less upset at this idea. I think he had felt abandoned at the idea that Tank had 'gone to find his family'. He seemed to accept the truth much better.

Bill returned and we talked. With a little guidance, Will came to the conclusion that his Nana was taking care of Tank in Heaven. We would bury Tank in the backyard and we'd make a special stone for him. We could get some flowers. And when a little time had passed, Will even asked us to get him another fish.

It's nearly two weeks later and Will's fish bowl still sits empty on his desk. He flies past it throughout the day, coming and going in search of toys or books or games-- busy with all of the things that occupy a typical four-year-old's life. He pauses to remember Tank now and then; to ask a question or tell me that he misses him.

Watching him reminds me of a quote I once read: "Death is not a period, but a comma in the story of life."


  1. superb parenting....all around. will's a lucky little boy...


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