When we brought three guppies and a betta home, the girls were excited. Oh, look at the orange on his tail, it’s like a cheetah. Let’s name him Cheetah. Right in the middle of their excitement of naming and observing, Michael hit them with the truth: fish will die.
Even with that matter-of-fact preparation, when Melisandra found her betta, King, upturned in his tank, she felt sad. She thought she’d have him longer. The brochure from the pet store said bettas live two to three years.
Michael said, “Flush it down the toilet. Send the fish back to the sea. ”
I said, “I’m not telling her that. Flushed fish don’t end up in the sea.”
Instead, I gave Melisandra two choices: we could bury King at the pond a few miles from our house or take him to my parents’ farm and bury him under a tree. Melisandra perked up. “The farm! The farm! The farm!”
Mom and Dad’s farm is thirty minutes away, so we had to postpone King’s burial until Easter weekend. I filled a container with water and put King in it, and because I love my kids a lot, I froze that betta fish among the peas and blueberries and lunch box sized ice packs.
After church and Easter ham, Mom, Melisandra and I walked to the grove. Melisandra, in her strappy sandals, tried to push the spade into the dirt. She had picked King’s burial spot–under a tree with deep roots, ones that revealed themselves and interfered with her efforts as she tried to move the dirt. She dug a hole about four inches wide and inch deep. A wee bit shallow.
“There. All ready,” she said.
I asked Melisandra for the spade. We planned to plant a container of spring flowers, all bulb plants, alongside King. We hoped those bulbs might survive the summer and winter and bloom again next year, so I deepened the hole to make room for the bulbs and their roots and for the ice packed betta.
I asked Melisandra if she wanted to say a little prayer.
She said, “King, you were my first fish. And you were made up of my favorite colors–red, blue, purple.” And that was that.
She set him in the ground, his colors remarkably vibrant against the white backdrop of ice. We all moved the soil back into place. Melisandra hugged me around the waist and asked, “Why did he have to die so soon?”
Then her mind wondered to Easter and our aunt Nancy who always planned the egg hunts for the grand kids but won’t be this year because we lost her last November. She said, “Why did Nancy have to die so soon, too?”
I said, “Those are questions I can’t answer. Those are questions I ask myself.” We stood a moment, letting the cold air flow around us. I felt comfort in holding her. And comfort in the rituals we have to help us let go.
Inspired by the letter F in the A to Z Challenge for the month of April. Scroll past the social media buttons to share your fish funeral story–you know you have one–or comment on this post.