My family had a handful of pets as I grew up. I’ve written recently about a beloved dog, but we also had others. I grew up in a fairly rural area. I remember when our dog died, my father went to the tree line in our back yard, picked a spot, and dug a small grave for that beloved friend. I’m glad that we stood there…a small, graveside ceremony of sorts…laying to rest the pet that we had all loved so much. It provided some closure, which is important in the grief process.
I was thinking about this recently as I woke one Sunday morning to discover that my daughter’s hamster had died. His name was Pepper, and he was her first “real” pet (I say real because I don’t think we really count a Betta fish). His passing didn’t come as a surprise, necessarily…he had lived a good, long life, and hadn’t been doing well for a few days. Medicine from the vet didn’t seem to be helping. She took it hard…and saying that is a bit of an understatement. There was a day of grieving, and, I’m going to be honest, it hit me a bit harder than I thought it would. I loved that little guy. When our daughter would have him out to play, she would bring him up to me and he would brush his nose on mine. It was a family joke. His last evening with us, he did just that. As it turned out, it was one last time, perhaps a “goodbye.”
Our daughter picked out a box and we purchased it…a sort of tiny casket in which to lay him to rest. She painted a huge red heart on the top. The image of the box with that heart on it has stayed with me…a little animal’s life and a girl’s enormous love for him captured in one symbol. I told her later how proud I was of her for loving him so much, and for giving him such a great life.
That afternoon, we were in the yard together as a family. I had a shovel in hand. Just as my father had done decades ago, I dug a (much smaller) grave and my daughter laid her beloved hamster to rest there. As a family, we paid our respects.
As my life came to this surreal full circle…doing what my dad had done for me so long ago…I reflected on grief. I think we shun grief as a culture…almost as though we’re obsessed with eternal youth…and so we don’t engage it. It’s important to engage it, though, because that’s how we handle it in a healthy way. Grief is a difficult lesson to learn, because the only way to learn it is to experience it. We don’t want that, because we’re reacting to a state of being that is contrary to how we were designed to exist. Yet, deal with it we must.
My daughter handled it very well. She’s moved on now because we engaged the grief, and we worked toward some closure.
But it still hurt.
I’ll miss that little guy.