While visiting Mexico, my daughters have had the fortune to delight in all sorts of creatures; many creatures that we do not see in Canada. It has brought to the forefront the conversation about ‘heaven’ that we all wonder when and how we will broach!
Both of my girls love animals, sea life, wildlife, and all sorts of creatures and critters alike. So I am bracing myself for our first lost goldfish, or hamster or birdie, which in reality, I am more likely to run out to the pet store and replace. Or the larger challenge of kittens and puppies and all furry little friends. Or even a beloved baby turtle or a cute little frog. Either way, I’m not sure whether it’s me saying goodbye to the departed that has me worried, or how to tell my children. I fear I’m one of those parents that will be replacing every bird or bunny with its imposter counterpart and wondering if my kids will notice.
I remember as a small child my first encounters.
My mother was never shy to be honest with me about the realities of life. So when she saw me toting around a small dead bird in a shoebox that had hit the window and I told her he was sleeping, she assured me that he was not sleeping. She then briskly took me inside to wash my hands. We had a birdie funeral, simple flowers hand-picked, placed over the grave, beside a couple of other graves that were there before my time. A couple of unlucky hamsters and cats I presume. And although a realist, my mother always loved animals and believed in the power of ritual.
After that I remember a faint sadness that would come over me if I came across a dead little creature. I was an empathetic child and didn’t like to see anyone or anything hurt. I remember when I would see bugs or creatures in our pool and I would start a rescue mission to save them. Whether it was a bee or a spider, I would gently and carefully rescue them from their drowning fate. I would talk to them and tell them to “hang in there and everything will be okay!” Much of my time growing up was spent on a ranch, where I eventually became a kitten midwife, ensuring that each kitten made it to the nipple, bobbing around blindly in search for nourishment. If there was not enough room I would carefully rotate out each baby kitten to ensure the weaker ones had a chance to eat. Inevitably when some of them didn’t make it, I carried on the tradition of burials and made sure each little creature was properly laid to rest. It was my early days of practicing the art of eulogy; somehow I managed to say something special and unique about each little casualty. On the ranch there were many opportunities to practice.
My next real encounter was finding a dead cat on the side of the road. It was early morning and it was frozen stiff into a curled up position. I was riding my bike and took the cat and hung it by its hooked arms over my handlebars. I rode home with this poor cat swinging from my bike, until I reached the front door to my house where I was met with raised eyebrows. I can’t believe looking back on it my dad was able to keep a straight face. I know I sure couldn’t have. The things kids do!
My 2 ½ year old’s reaction to god’s creatures is much more like a research scientist. I was always squeamish in school when it came to biology class and the smell of formaldehyde and animal cadavers. I can somehow see my daughter relishing at the opportunity to discover how it all works and how it is all put together. I suppose this is the start to what separates the would be doctors from the non doctors?!
Ella and Esmé have delighted in many creatures, favorites being the dragonflies, bees, geckos and the beloved cockroaches. Yes, cockroaches. Upon finding the former toasted and well done we would scoop them up with a broom and dustpan and the only ritual involved would be a flush and a “bye-bye cucaracha” (cockroach in Spanish). I suppose that the sensitivities I possessed as a child were somewhat lost on these less than desirable critters. It had never mattered before, but somewhere between the idea of my 11 month old eating a crunchy cucaracha (koo-ka-ra-cha! Its fun to say isn’t it?) and the fact that they were likely dead and twitching as a result of fumigation, changed the game a bit.
Speaking of crunchy, my 11 month old insists on putting absolutely everything in her mouth. Including the gecko she found in the sliding door track that was at the end of his days. She found him frozen in action, poised for pounce, and when I noticed she was eyeing him up in her chubby little fingers with wide eyes exited to partake in her next tasty meal, she quickly lost her prize. It is still alarming to me that babies must put everything in their mouths and that they have no discernment whatsoever. Bless evolution. Who knows, maybe gecko jerky is a delicacy in some countries.
The next tell to my tale, or should I say tail, is about Gecko Fred. That is the name that all the little geckos have been given. Ella loooooves geckos. What’s not to love? They are very cool, little creatures. Unfortunately for Fred, Ella loved him too much. So I put him aside hoping he would recover and when I came back later he would have gecko’ed off. When I came back the next day, Fred’s spirit had clearly departed and he was officially sleeping. Yes! That’s what I told Ella. I completely chickened out.
Telling Ella that Fred was Dead just seemed too un-me, and she is too darn smart to buy the sleeping bit for much longer without being highly suspicious. I want her to grow into a little person who actually believes what I say. As life would have it, Murphy’s Law was at the party and my mother rang on skype just in the nick of time. She overheard me say Fred was sleeping. “It sure doesn’t look like Fred’s sleeping to me!” To which I replied, “Yes, Mamma, he’s having a bad day.” To which she informed me, “It looks like he’s having more than a bad day.” Sigh. “Yes, Grandma, Fred’s Dead.” Ella accidentally pulled off Fred’s tail and it was the first time I saw remorse on her sweet little face. I requested she apologize to Fred. “Poor Fred!” I said, to which my little sponge responded, “It’s ok mama, Fred’s Dead!” Did I ever laugh! Ella now refers to all heaven bound creatures as Fred’s Dead. Sometimes we teach our kids and sometimes our kids teach us.
If you have any thoughts, experiences or stories on the topic, we would love to hear from you! Please feel free to share below.
Cheers! – Mama Jai