Pudding’s short life has so far been pretty charmed, in that she hasn’t known much loss. When we’ve gone to museums and looked at animals, I’ve tried to explain that they are not alive, as opposed to the ones in zoos which are alive. I think she is still a little young to get the concept.
Last year, before I began the blog, Spectrummy Daddy was getting ready to go to Afghanistan. On an impulse, I decided we needed something to focus on at home while he was gone, and thus Jerry came into our lives. Pudding is scared of dogs (perhaps wisely, as the yappy dog who lives down the street that started her terror abit me on the leg last week), I’m allergic to cats and various other fluffy creatures. The lowest maintenance thing I could think of was a fish. We bought a red betta and brought him home. A fighting fish would protect us while Daddy was gone!
Every morning Pudding would include Jerry in her goodbyes before school. She liked to look at him, as did Cubby. Then, inevitably, I suppose, came the morning when I came downstairs to find Jerry was swimming at the top of the water. I panicked. How would she react to this? Would she be able to understand the concept of death? She was only 3, a little young for such matters. Would she grieve? Would she be angry, or sad, or just not care? I just didn’t know. Nowadays I would have just written a post about it, and waited for your sage comments to guide me through. Instead, I waited for her reaction to guide me.
Her reaction didn’t come. She didn’t notice Jerry that morning, and when she went to school, I removed his lifeless corpse and the tank. When she returned home, I waited for her to notice, but she didn’t. She never mentioned him, and life for the rest of us continued. I decided against replacing him. Clearly I’m not good at keeping fish alive, and she showed no signs of missing him. Several months passed without a mere mention.
Last week I was emailing her teacher before school, when Pudding approached me and asked where Jerry was. I was utterly unprepared for the question. I wondered if she meant somebody else named Jerry, perhaps a character from a book. I asked her who Jerry was, and she told me, ” a fish.” I took a breath, and prepared for my first shot at explaining something so utterly beyond me.
Me: Jerry isn’t here any more. What do you think happened to him?
Pudding: Jerry is gone.
Me: That is right, honey. He is not alive any more. He is gone and can’t come back. Do you miss him?
Pudding: Jerry is gone. Jerry is gone.
Me: Yes. What happened to Jerry? Where do you think he is now?
Pudding: Jerry is gone in the water. He is swimming in the water. Jerry is gone in the water.
And then she trotted off to get a book. The conversation over. I don’t know if she misses him or not. I don’t know if she understands. Maybe in another few months she’ll be back with more questions. Until then, she is right. Jerry is gone. I hope that wherever he is, he is happily swimming in the water. I also hope that Daddy is around when she next thinks of her little fish friend. After all, he is the one in charge of religion and frozen desserts.