I have a guest blogger today! This post is authored by Gretchen of Lifenut. She was one of the first blogs I ever read, and she’s been one of my favorites ever since. Gretchen writes with grace and humor about life, loss, and her pancreas. Not just any blogger could pull that off, you know.
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It was bedtime. Sam, our seven-year-old son, was in his room arranging honored items on the bookshelves next to his bed. His favorite photos, his elephant collection, Lego creations, books—each had to be right before shutting his eyes for the night. In the shuffle, a stack of books toppled. A brochure, which had been tucked in between two books and forgotten, fell to the desk below.
How To Care For Your New Goldfish
A sob erupted from Sam’s core without warning.
Two months ago, Sam’s goldfish died. The fish was named Juicebox. It was universally agreed that he was a smart fish. The bowl sat on the center of our kitchen table, which is the hub of activity with six small kids in the house. Juicebox witnessed rowdy dinners, donut breakfasts, pumpkin-scooping, and egg coloring. He was with us for nearly nine months. Once, he nearly caught a housefly that foolishly landed on the water’s surface. He’d follow objects—our fingers, action figures, bright yarn—swimming after them like an aquakitten of sorts. Juicebox was delightful, which isn’t something people normally say about a goldfish.
The kids and I were out of town when Juicebox began to fail. My husband, who stayed behind to work, noticed him laying on his side or swimming upside down. The internet’s vast store of information led my husband to a pet store, where he bought fish antibiotics. He administered them faithfully. He cleaned the bowl per strict instructions.
He even prayed, and Juicebox rallied.
When the kids and I returned home, Juicebox seemed spunky. He was swimming upright and eating. We thought the worst had passed.
It was the Sunday after our return. We went to church, then out to run errands and have lunch. I was the first to walk in the door. Juicebox was on the bottom of the bowl, curved like a petal from a large marigold. His gills weren’t flowing up and down. I shook the bowl a little. Juicebox was dead.
And Sam, whose responsibility it was to feed him daily, who brought a goldfish into our home on his last day of first grade, who drew pictures of his little mac-n-cheese colored (he once noted) buddy and first pet? His heart broke.
I could see it, having lost the small and helpless from my own body. There was nothing we could do to save Juicebox in the end, even though we tried hard and prayed for our little fishy. His life was out of our hands. Sam sobbed. I cried with him. We talked about what a good fish Juicebox was. I found a small white gift box. He placed Juicebox inside. In the yard, he found a spot for burial, by the back fence next to a young maple tree. My husband dug a deep hole. Sam laid the box inside and said a prayer of thanks for Juicebox. He cried goodbye and ran to his room.
We put the fish supplies away, quietly. They are sitting in the garage on a shelf, above Sam’s line of vision. He hadn’t mentioned much of Juicebox until the night the brochure fell in front of him.
All of us who have lost someone important know how it is: You travel through your day, not thinking of past sorrows, and suddenly something from the midnight side of blue blindsides. Suddenly, you are thrust back into the pain as if it were fresh. As I sat on his bed rocking him and crying, I told him I knew, I knew. I told him how he was happy in his room, looking at his special things, and then something made him remember Juicebox when he wasn’t ready to remember Juicebox.
Yes, that’s it, he confirmed. I wasn’t ready to think about him.
Memorials are planned. Anniversaries of loss are anticipated. We learn to prepare ourselves for those days, and we get through with prayer and the support of friends. But what do we do when it’s a Tuesday night at 8:30 pm and a brochure falls, or it’s a Thursday morning and I see something that must have fallen behind the dresser and it’s an ultrasound photo from a baby who is a Citizen of Heaven? There is no warning.
So we roll with it because fighting it is futile, on our knees and in each other’s arms. As Sam’s mom, I knew he’d fall asleep soon. In the morning, he would wake and probably not remember the emotions which battered him to sleep.
But I do.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4