A death in the family

Our children had their first real experience of grief today when we awoke to discover out catfish, Of, had passed away during the night.

Our daughter  originally had two sucker cleaner fish called Of and On, both of whom passed away in quick succession not long after their purchase for her birthday in 2003. A miraculous “visit to Dr Harry” saw one of the fish resurrected, with Of 2 successfully passing itself off as the original Of.

For many years we though Of was a boy but we learned last year he was most likely a she. Of survived battle scars from close encounters with bits of the tank and bugs no doubt introduced by the guppies. She had been sucking mid air without being attached to anything last week and breathing faster than usual but seemed to have recovered.

So our daughter was terribly upset to find Of upside down, eyes open but dead, when the tank light came on this morning. We had a small funeral in the front yard, with Of buried in a green tea box with some jasmine from the garden.

Although we have had plenty of guppies pass away and be farewelled down the toilet, this was our oldest fish, one with a name, one we had watched grow and had grown attached to.

So it was intriguing and slightly alarming to monitor our children’s reactions. Our daughter  asked if she could choose anything she wanted for breakfast. Sure thing. Later she asked if she could have something special, like a VIP membership to the Barbie website. I explained carefully that grief is not usually rewarded with gifts other than flowers.

At four, our son is still a bit young to understand the concept of death. I explained that everyone dies eventually, usually when they are old, and that our dog would eventually pass away. He asked if we would die and I said not for a long time. Later he told my husband that our dog was going to die, and when he did, he would get chocolate.

We have no idea where he got that idea.

The mysteries of the minds of children.


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