Fish Funerals and Talking Death to Children….

The Cosby Show Fish Funeral

My children’s fish, Shimmer, died the other day after spending approximately 13 days with our family….it was a rich, full life.

None of them seemed too upset by the whole thing. They were more intrigued with the manner in which we were going to dispose of him.  I can still see their three little heads peering over the edge of the toilet bowl, faces reflecting in the tranquil waters, waiting for me to empty the cup that held their new friend.

I asked the three of them if there were any final words they wanted to say about their fish….they said no. I asked if any of them would like to say a prayer….again they said no. Finally, one of the three spoke up and said….”just drop him in the toilet”.

So I did….shimmer circled rapidly and then disappeared.  Our three children marched out of the bathroom and picked up with the batman adventure this “funeral” had interrupted.

It’s hard for a parent to know how much to say about death to their children.  One big reason is that the term “death” in their world  does not (for our children) come burdened with the feelings of loss, hurt, pain, and sadness….not yet.  I know some day this must be a part of their life experience, as it is for all people of all ages.  But right now they seem as innocent as the garden before humanity’s awful choice gave us such words as “death”.

Ever since the “funeral” they have been asking more questions about getting older, and about death.  My wife and I are trying our best to speak clearly and honestly about the subject.  That is until the other night, when our six-year-old was lying in his bed and I was saying good night.  He was asking me why I have “white hairs” starting to appear on my head. I told him it was because I was getting older. You could almost see the connections taking place in his brain. His voice then got quiet, and weak, and he asked me, “when are you going to die?”

“oh….not for a long, long, long, time.”

My eyes started to well with tears.  It was true….well mostly….kind of…..In that moment I felt so small, having so much less control over life than I pretended to have.  My answer reflected my hope and prayer, but not necessarily the reality. I realized I am prepared to face the reality of death at any moment and in every aspect of my life, except when it comes to my children.

So I kissed his forehead, and gave him a big hug. He laughed about the stubble on my face scratching his cheek.  We said goodnight, and I left the room. Walking down the hall, I repeated the lyrics to an old song I had heard many times in the bible:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90: 12

That’s where I’m at….this is not a fixed post with a typical opening, stating of problem, and solution to problem. This is just the confession of a young parent, who realized something about my life from watching a Beta fish disappear into our toilet.

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2 thoughts on “Fish Funerals and Talking Death to Children….

  1. The title of your blog caught our interest as the “fish funeral” episode of the Cosby Show is a Shay family favorite. Claire even named her hen after Rudy’s fish, Lamont. Any how I read it aloud to the children for entertainment purposes and they laughed quite a bit until it took a turn for the profound. The mood grew somber for just a short while as you reflected on death, then Colin piped up with a golden nugget of critique on your piece, “Shimmer is a good name for a Beta fish.” Thanks for the memories!

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