March 26, 2011

Death, and Other Funny Stories

I've recently become a big fan of The Hossman Chronicles.  Yes, it seems that just as I have a harder time getting along with women in real life, I prefer the company of male parenting-bloggers online as well.  At any rate, Daddy Hoss recently wrote about his children's first real encounter with death.  I laughed out loud through the whole thing, when I wasn't pausing to reflect on the enormity of the issues raised by his poor children discovering that he might, in fact, be a bunny murdering monster.

Let's face it, coming to terms with death is incredibly traumatic... when it happens.  But then you become an adult.  You come to understand that death is inevitable, you make some sort of peace with it.  And then those same events- the ones that were so incredibly painful, they're suddenly hilarious.

If you've never read Hyperbole and a Half, I recommend her description of her own traumatic experience- How a Fish Almost Destroyed My Childhood.  You'll laugh until you cry.

I haven't had to explain death to my kids.  They're not even two years old, it would be silly.  But it will happen.  I somehow doubt it will be our cat who gives them their first brush with death.  After all, he's probably got a good ten years left in him.  Grandma, Grandpa, Poppa and Grandmommy are all in excellent health, and the girls' five surviving great-grandparents are doing pretty well too, for the most part.  Chances are we'll be walking to the park and find some roadkill, or a bird will fly into our window.  Chances are, death will be a sinister force that takes even sweet, random animals.

So I got to thinking about when I first learned about death.  And yes, it was horrible.  And remembering one story always leads to another, so... here we are.  Without further ado, I give you three stories of Learning About Death. 

Act 1: SuperMommy the Super Villain
My family had guinea pigs in the basement.  Guinea pigs are great pets for little kids.  Sure, they're rodents with big sharp teeth, but their mouths don't really open wide enough to bite anyone.  They're just little furballs with teeny tiny legs and big eyes, with round little ears on top.

Guinea pigs are very, very cute.

So one day, we have a whole lot of baby guinea pigs.  My sister, Aunt Something Funny (who is probably all of four years old), decides that she and her sidekick- that would be me- are going to play Pet Store.

We go down to the basement, and she buys a bunch of baby guinea pigs from me, the store clerk.  This is a full service pet store, though.  I don't just hand over the baby guinea pigs- I package them up for her.  In a nice pretty cookie tin.  They're all lined up reeeeeeeeeeal nice, and I put on that lid.  I think it had a log cabin in a snowy field.

And, as this is a full service pet store, I deliver the guinea pigs to her house.  Her house was, of course, our shared bedroom.  Which was in the attic.

Picture, if you will, the charming scene of two curly headed moppets, laughing as they march gleefully from the basement up the stairs to the kitchen... around the living room... up the stairs to the big hallway... and up the stairs again to the attic.  Where upon their arrival, the existence of other toys and games completely distracts them from whatever it was they were doing a moment ago.

My parents, of course, discovered the tin full of dead baby guinea pigs, and confronted their adorable little girls.  Aunt Something Funny was old enough to understand that something horrible, awful, unspeakably bad had happened.  Poor me... I knew I was to blame.  I had killed all of those little baby guinea pigs.  But I was also three, I didn't quite know how to cope with my own crushing guilt.  So how did I do it?  For a while, anytime anyone was around, I would announce to them that, "We put the baby guinea pigs in the tin and they all died!  Now they're all dead!" and Aunt Something Funny would burst into tears.  I think I finally forgave myself for being a murderess about six years ago.  I'm sure Aunt Something Funny is still harboring her own hangups.

Act 2: Grandma and the Raccoon
One winter, my MIL saw a raccoon having seizures in her backyard.  So, like a good citizen, she called animal control.  After they told her they were on their way post haste, she called the next door neighbor to warn her that there was a sick raccoon, and that there was going to be a commotion in between their two yards.

Having no idea what the commotion might be, this neighbor thought it might be a treat for her very young children, and lined them up- looking over the back of their couch out the window, to see what happened when animal control came for the sick raccoon.

Two animal control officers arrived, and observed the poor animal.  For a moment they seemed to pause, and then one officer acted.  In one swift motion he pulled a gun out of his coat, and he shot the raccoon at point blank.


There was no telling those poor, screaming children the next house over that the raccoon was just sleeping, or that he would be fine.  No, a bad man had POINTED A GUN at that raccoon and shot it.  Two times.

No coming back from that.

Act 3: Bones
My family once had a dog named Chewy.  He was a bad dog, as far as it came to pooping on the floor and chewing up treasured possessions, but was otherwise the sweetest animal you ever knew.  He was a Pomeranian, and as friendly and mild tempered as any Pomeranian ever born.

It wasn't just my mom and sisters and I who loved that dog, despite how naughty he was, it was every little kid in our lives.  My Back-Up Mom (long story) had a five year old daughter, and she ADORED Chewy.  She would carry him around, feed him little snacks, he was the best friend a little girl could want.  Even if she was allergic to dogs.

Over the summer, my Back-Up Mom and her  daughter were staying at Guppy Lake.  It might have been the 4th of July.   But, sadly, Pomeranians are prone to sudden and fatal seizures.  And poor Chewy picked that day to have a sudden and very fatal seizure.

There are many of our pets buried up at Guppy Lake, so this was no new routine for us.  But for that poor little girl...  Once it was clear that Chewy was dead, she had a whole host of questions.  The sort of existential questions anyone would ask after their first encounter with death.  What happens when you die?  Does everyone die?  Will I die?

The two answers that gave her the most comfort and satisfaction were that Chewy's soul was in Heaven, and after Chewy's body went into the ground it would turn into bones.

After the doggie funeral, we had a fairly somber meal.  And after the somber meal, as with any funeral, we began to laugh, to joke, to mourn healthfully.

And then we noticed the little girl was missing.  A quick search turned her up, experiencing a no-doubt life altering moment of sudden reality.  She had gone to dig up the dog.  As all the adults (or near-adults) rushed her away, there was a scream, "Is Chewy bones yet?  IS HE BONES YET???"


  1. So I found your blog on MBC and was intrigued by you saying you are both cancer survivors, our son is fighting cancer right now so hearing about survivors is always very encouraging. We have had a few guinea pigs, a rabbit and a cat pass away but my kids first death was a road kill squirrel on the way to the park. I told the kids now that is why it is so important to look both ways! My friends thought I was awful but I figured it was a teachable moment :D Welcome to MBC!!

  2. We traveled and moved a lot when my kids were small so I didn't have to worry about all this. Then one day the kids got goldfish at a school fair. Boom, within the week, three funerals!

    Great post! Thanks.

  3. Oh my goodness!! I can't even imagine explaining life & death to Aviv quite yet. We have two cats, but at 10 years old they will be with us for quite a while yet. Loved reading this entry and your experiences.... Thanks for sharing :)




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