The Boy and the Blindside

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

40 thoughts on “The Boy and the Blindside

  1. ~Miss Nelson says:

    This story really touched me. The style of writing is awesome, the story just flows. I like the fact that they valued the life of the goldfish to the child. Very important lesson.

  2. Jenn says:

    This is wonderful! It makes me step back and think about the little things for my boys. Sometimes I try to hurry them through their day and miss out on opportunities like that to pray, cry and simply be with my child.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    My 11-year-old-this-week son had Einstein Comma Albert, our brilliant beta, for 2 years. Super Fish had lived through the big ice storm in the lap of luxury with thoughtful people who have generators the size of any given sedan, traveled to the grandparents in a neighboring state, was photographed as the star of a school paper and lived through fostering kittens. When he started to grow something ugly on his head we worried, but when he couldn’t see his food last week we put him to sleep. Yeah, I found how to do that on the internet, and it’s neither freezing nor flushing… He’s buried under a red bud tree. His home now holds daises from our garden. We miss him terribly.

  4. Jenni says:

    My daughter’s beloved bunny died about a month after my second miscarriage, and I cried all over her in empathy. I know it touched her heart to have mommy grieve with her, although she didn’t know the half of it.

  5. Adventures In Babywearing says:

    Oh, this was beautiful. So appropriate.
    We have a pet fish that resides in our kitchen- oh the stories that fish could tell. How precious Juicebox got to be loved by your Sam.
    And you know, Gretchen IS my favorite blogger ever and always will be. : )
    Steph

  6. Danielle says:

    Really beautiful, Gretchen. Sometimes it’s our children’s losses that pain us the most, isn’t it? Thank you and God bless you for sharing your mother’s heart with us in such a beautiful way.

  7. Jamie from Ohbecareful! says:

    Beautifully said, Gretchen. You write about death and loss with such gentle understanding; truly, you have been given a unique gift.
    Poor Sam. I lost many pets during my childhood, and it never got easier with the passing of any. Some were violently ripped from my young life and I thought I would never recover. And you know, even though they were just pets, I still do miss them. Losing someone we love is difficult for adults, and no easier for children.
    Sam is lucky to have a mom who could put into words what he was feeling, and help him through his grief.

  8. Stacey @ Happy Are We says:

    Three weeks before our recent move from Portland, Oregon to Houston, Texas, our 4yr old kitty Maya died VERY suddenly while playing with the kids. She was my oldest daughter’s kitty, sleeping with her, loving her, waiting for her after school. It was a tough time, made especially tough because of all the other dramatic changes we were going through.
    My screensaver at home is a slideshow of family pictures, and recently one came up of Maya, and my oldest daughter was passing by the den just at that moment. I heard my daughter’s breath catch as she saw the picture.
    You’re right – we do get blindsided. And we just have to hope that when we do, we’ve become a little stronger to withstand that jolt. And in our case, I know that strength comes from a loving Father in Heaven.
    WONDERFUL post!!

  9. Awesome Mom says:

    It is hard to loose a pet.
    If you do eventually try again with a goldfish don’t put it in a bowl. They live longer if you put them in large tanks with a filtration system. The only kind of fish that really does well in a bowl is bettas.

  10. Katie says:

    This is especially touching for me as I lost a beloved family member yesterday. Thank you for the reminder that the waves of emotions are something we need to roll with and it’s ok if they come without much explanation.

  11. kim says:

    God is gracious to help us learn how to grieve and heal. Thank you for helping your son grieve well. So many of the kiddos I teach don’t have adults in their lives to cuddle them through tough and hurtful times.
    Your son is blessed because of his loving and brave mom.

  12. Kelly @ Love Well says:

    You’ve perfectly captured the sneaky side of grief, Gretchen. I think those unexpected moments of agony are the hardest to bear.
    Beautifully written, as always. You have a lyrical voice.

  13. Jade says:

    How sweet. It reminds me of the Anastasia Krupnick series where the little boy longed to have Anastasia’s goldfish swim in the bath with him.

  14. Jackie Sue says:

    Gretchen has truly captured how loss sneaks up on us. Out of nowhere. Having had several losses myself I had to realize that one never “gets over” a loss, but learns to embrace the truth that loss changes us forever and it is meant to. For only then can we comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received. To know God as the god of comfort has been my salvation over and over again.

  15. Pink Lemonade Liz says:

    What a fantastic piece of writing!! I’m so sorry that Juicebox is gone, but the good memories will always be there. We are stronger for having loved and lost that which is dear to our hearts in any way.

  16. Teff says:

    This story had me on the verge of tears! I’m so sorry that Juicebox is gone, but he will forever remain dear in our hearts and he will always be remembered. I’m sorry that your little guy had to be shoved back into that pain, especially when he clearly wasn’t ready to be pushed back into the memories of Juicebox so soon. Very good writing…and again, I’m sorry Juicebox is gone. But he will always be remembered 🙂

  17. ter says:

    I’m sorry for the loss of your son’s pet… and for the little one you lost too…I, too, am a bereaved mom. I shall come visit your blog.

  18. Kristenkj says:

    I, too, know the pain. I lost my dog 3 years ago June 10. I still miss him something awful, and those moments that creep up on you with no warning are tough to get through.

  19. sunny says:

    I just started reading your blog.Thanks for that post, it was very good to read.I will be checking back.Will be reading Life nut too now:-)

  20. prasti says:

    i just had a blindside experience reading this post :). our wee baby in my belly went to be with Jesus almost 2 mos. ago, and reading the blog caught me off guard. thank you for sharing this story and the verses at the end.

  21. Lucy says:

    What a sweet post. I totally know that feeling of being surprised by a sudden reminder of loss – both the human and the animal. Thank you for such a sweetly expressed thought.

  22. Susan says:

    OK – reading this post gave my “how to care for goldfish” moment. It takes you by suprise and sometimes I don’t want to go back to that loss. Because of the loss of one “Citizen of Heaven,” I have another child who I cherish.
    I still can’t bring myself to scrapbook that Thanksgiving day which started at the hospital and ended with family I was just meeting for the first time. I wouldn’t have gone except we had just flown clear across the country for the holiday.
    Memories.
    I do appreciate the openess of you and others who share your experiences as it can be a very lonely feeling one. We are not alone! Especially with the Lord on our side.

  23. Bethany says:

    That was a beautiful piece from one of my all time favorite bloggers.
    My ten year old daughter loves all her pets…and they may be lizards she caught in the yard. She’s lost one lizard, two litters of kittens, and one momma cat over the years. It’s been so tough because her grief was very real. It breaks my heart.
    I’m not a fan of cats, but if something happened to the two we have left I’d probably have a fit! It breaks my heart knowing how it will hurt my daughter.
    Thanks for sharing this lovely story, Gretchen.

  24. Laura says:

    Wow, that could have been written by me (although, pointedly, not as poeticly). I have a son Sam who loved loved loved his first pet goldfish, who was smart and funny and sweet, until he took it for a walk out of it’s water and it died. I too have a baby in heaven, and every time I hear a mom call out “Madelyn!” at the park or store, I am jolted back to the dull grief that is always under the surface of normal. Thanks for writing something that fit so closely with my experience.

  25. Coffee Bean says:

    You are a wonderful writer!
    I’ve looked all over for a way to contact you through e-mail but don’t see that information (of course, I don’t have that info on my blog either)… Hopefully, your comments are e-mailed to you. I am trying to get the word out about something important this week and was wondering if you could help me.
    Thanks!

  26. tracey says:

    That was truly beautifully written.
    I’m so sorry for your loss and for the loss Sam had to experience with Juicebox…

  27. edj says:

    Oh this brought tears to my eyes. That’s it exactly–the unexpected reminders that are so jarring. Beautifully expressed. Beautiful post.

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