One fish, two fish, red fish, dead fish
Meet Splash. He’s a small, red Betta fish that was a gift to my daughter for her fourth birthday in April. Splash quickly became a member of the family, as much as any fish possibly can. But although Betta fish are supposed to be quite resiliant, this past week Splash developed a bacterial infection that killed him within 18 hours of its first symptoms.
The death of a pet is supposed to be an ideal opportunity to help children learn to tackle the nuances of loss and grieving. Here was my chance to demonstrate that I could navigate this difficult situation and skillfully support my daughter through her emotional rollercoaster. Ultimately, it should have been a character-building experience for the entire family. Instead, I high-tailed it to Petco and bought a new small, red Betta fish. My daughter is none the wiser, but I’m feeling a bit sheepish.
What did I have to gain from encouraging a four-year-old to face mortality? The death of my first hamster, Snowball (may she rest in peace) remains a traumatic memory, but in every subsequent encounter with death during my childhood, that first experience remained a touchstone – I’d seen a dead thing, poked it, stared it in the face. It was terrible, yes. But it also wasn’t so bad.
All the same, I just wasn’t ready. I felt responsible for the fish’s early demise, as I’d been somewhat lax about changing his water regularly. How could I tell my kid that her mother killed her birthday fish? I just couldn’t do it. I’d like to think that when Splash II meets his maker, I’ll be ready to officiate a real funeral. I know my daughter could handle it. If only I were so brave.