Little Fish, Big Impact

We lost a member of the household today – the pet fish. Dealing with the loss of a pet is a rite of passage for a parent, unfortunately. It’s when your heart tugs at you, but you realize, “Yikes! I’m the adult here… I have to keep it together.” What do you do when your child’s heart is breaking?

This isn’t the first time we’ve lost a pet. Since my daughter’s birth, we’ve had to explain death and mourn several beloved animals. We’ve got dogs, a cat, and a pet turtle waiting at the Pearly Gates for us. The last cat passed away unexpectedly the day before my daughter’s birthday this summer, while her birthday cake was in the oven. I say unexpectedly, but I’m not sure that’s really true. She was twenty years old, human years, by the way. She was deaf and just about totally blind, but in “remarkably good shape for a cat her age”, according to our vet. For some reason, she used to find her way into the shower at 3 AM, not find her way out, and run into the glass and meow until one of us woke up to show her the door. She was round, soft, and so sweet. Her little heart just gave out that day, and she passed away in our arms. The house certainly isn’t the same without her. So here we are again… with the fish.

My little girl asked repeatedly for a fish for two years. My answer was always “No”. I know fish don’t live long. All the fish books say NOT to get attached to pet fish, that one can do everything right, and still they may die. When Audrey loves something, she does it with her whole heart. We have a fish game App, if we couldn’t keep virtual fish alive, how would we do with a real one?

Mommy said “No”. Grandma said “Yes!” That’s another rite of parent, or grandparent passage. Who can argue with a doting grandma?

So one day after school last spring, we headed to the pet store and bought a Half-Moon Betta fish, and a starter tank. Audrey kept him in her room, and he became her little buddy. She named him Fin-Fin. We checked out several books on keeping a Betta, kept his water clean, and even figured out what fish food he liked best. Yes, even our fish became spoiled. He really did have a personality, as far as fish go. The books all said males might make “bubble nests”, and ours made one every week. He’d get very upset when we’d break them up to clean his water. He’d always come up to the glass when we approached, and Audrey swears he watched TV. I have to admit, I became attached, too. We even grabbed him as we fled down the stairs to the basement during Hurricane Irene, so he was a part of the family.

One thing about Connecticut – the weather and the temperature can change drastically and suddenly. This particular night, a deep cold front came through. We woke up to a chilly house. I think Fin-Fin got too cold, and that morning, he was lying on the bottom, on his side. Not good. Frantically, I called a family member who used to raise Bettas. He told me things to do, that maybe we could save him, but to no avail. Soon, our pet floated belly up. I felt helpless, and my daughter’s heart broke.

If I could have done CPR on that little sucker, I would have.

I’m not the only Mom distraught over the death of a fish. One of my friends had her daughter’s fish pass one day while her daughter was at school. It was a snowy, cold winter day. Panicked, she put the dead fish in a plastic baggy, loaded her toddler into the car, and drove to the pet store, hoping to find one that looked exactly the same. By the time she got there, the deceased fish was encased in ice, having frozen in the baggy on the drive over. She was able to pull off the (pardon the pun) bait-and-switch for several years, but had to fess up when that fish died, since her daughter started to question whether it had broken a world record by living so long.

So this week was a sad one for us. We held a funeral for Fin-Fin in the yard, burying him in the Hosta bed. To say my daughter was disgusted at the suggestion of a funeral in the bathroom followed by a flushing, is not even close.

The grandparents were called with the sad news, and a new tank (with a heater) is on its way as we speak. Here we go again.

I know that this isn’t the last time I’ll feel helpless as my daughter cries over a broken heart. I’m sure her heart will get broken no matter how much I try to avoid it. Life throws punches. Sometimes as parents, our job is to just be there to soften the blows.

Meet “Pumpkin”

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  1. Debbie says:

    Hi Nicole,
    This is a (bitter)sweet story. We can relate…Our first pet passing was a beta fish too, but the kids were very small then and not too attatched… The hard blow came later on with the passing of their first guinea pig, Pedro (named after Pedro Martinez when he was with the Red Sox).
    he was the alpha of our four guinea pigs and, our sons favorite. There were many tears when he left us and we too had a " funeral " in our back yard for him. Thank you for sharing your story and good luck with " Pumpkin ". Cute!

    Deb, your Beach Blogging sister!

    Deb, It’s so hard not to get attached to your pets, no matter how small, right?  I love the name of your guinea pig.  We have a neighbor around the corner who has an elderly dog named Jeter, after Derek Jeter.  When he was young, he used to always come visit us.  Now that he’s older, he doesn’t come around anymore.  Keep your fingers crossed for us with the new fish!  Thanks for commenting!  -Nicole

  2. Louise Marie says:

    How sweet. I am sure that you remember the quote, "It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all." I am so pleased that you allow your daughter to love a pet, then to be there to soften the blow when that pet dies. You taught her how to love and care for the pets in her life. She even knows how to say goodbye in her own appropriate way. No ceramic sea funeral for this baby fish. So, I am commending you for being a loving and thoughtful mother of a child with pets. God bless you.

    Wow, Louise Marie, thank you so much for such a wonderful compliment!  It means so much.  -Nicole  

  3. Priscilla says:

    This brings back memories! I have four children, ages 22 on down to 15. My 18 year old has always been a particularly sensitive child (as well as so strong-willed, her nick-name was Taz when she was a toddler). She is a gifted artist, and was mystical from the time she could talk. When she was about four she was so distressed over a dying bug in the garage that I ended up making it disappear and then buried it (she said, "a man with wings reached down and took it to heaven!) Right now we have several frozen fish in baggies that were waiting for a spring burial and need to get rounded up and buried before the snow falls again! No flushing here either! The best and worst of times was when I was grandma to two hamsters in succession, Nadia and Cinnamon. They only live about two years and the depth of grief at our house(yes, I cried too) was so much that we decided not to get any more pets that have such short life-spans and are prone to many illnesses(why they have been used as lab animals in the past). Still, our lives have been enriched by pets–furry and finned alike. I am proud that the two youngest, still at home, insist on going to the vets whenever a pet has to be euthanized and give TLC to them as they quietly pass. Death is a part of life and my children have learned to celebrate life even in sorrow.

  4. Joann Carlson says:

    So sorry to hear about the fish. Understand fish funerals, and mice funerals (had many of those) and dogs, and kitties. Our last little dog had to be put to sleep on September 19th. Only 4 1/2. Enlarged heart. So sad! We did doggie day care for the rescue person that we had gotten our other dog from the following week-end. We made a decision to keep this one. Too hard not having one. This one is 6 but our vet says she is healthy. May we have her much longer than 4 years in our care. May your next fish last much longer. Our daughter has had one for years. It even jumped from the bowl at least once but survived. Even in a house with cats.

    Thank you, Joann.  May you have your pup a long, long time! -Nicole

  5. Janice K> says:

    You daughter is a child after my own heart…I have always been one to care deeply about animals in any form. Heck, I even take spiders that I find in the house outside!
    I think that teaching your child to be a warm and caring person is simply wonderful. I can imagine that she (and you!) treat people in the same manner. We need more kind and compassionate people on this earth…
    Greetings to beautiful Pumpkin!

    Janice, thank you.  Yes, my daughter is a really sweet, sensitive little girl, and my best friend. I’m a lucky mom!  She really likes your comment.  Thanks so much for reading.  -Nicole

  6. Diana says:

    What a great memorial set up for a beloved part of your family! That’s the difference with some people, viewing pets as material possessions which can be given away or tossed in the trash as opposed to including them as part of the family.
    We’ve always included them as part of ours (for better or worse!!). Pets have a way of teaching us so much and are always such a blessing!! Here’s to a long beta life for Pumpkin!!

  7. Lynell says:

    Now we know who the sensible one is here. Great post!

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