Death is something that not even adults can readily understand, so it comes as no surprise that it would be even more confusing for kids. Many times, kids first encounter death with the loss of a family pet, which then leads to a bazillion different questions about the afterlife. Unfortunately, for us, this is something that we had to deal with over this past weekend when we discovered that Rainbow the fish had bitten the dust. And much to my surprise, it was my son, rather than my animal-obsessed daughter, who had the toughest time swallowing the news.
Rainbow first came to live with us about three years ago. My daughter had won a coupon for a free fish at the school’s fall festival, and I was guilted into actually letting her cash the damn thing in. We decided to upgrade from a goldfish to a rainbow-colored Beta fish, since goldfish typically don’t live very long. At first, everyone was all gung-ho to feed the new fish and change the water in his bowl. However, as life got crazier, poor Rainbow was often forgotten. The dude often went days without even a single piece of food. He would practically jump out of the friggin’ bowl when someone would finally bring food near him as if to say, “FEED ME, YOU MOTHER EFFING LAZY PIECES OF SHIT!!!!” I often referred to him as the “wonder fish” since he seemed to be invincible.
Lately, though, my husband and I couldn’t help but notice that Rainbow wasn’t quite as colorful as he used to be. His scales looked pretty pitiful, and we often found him lying completely still in his water. I even got to where I’d shake the bowl a bit to see if he would move at all. So it wasn’t much of a shock when I found him dead as a doornail at the bottom of his bowl the other day. I dreaded telling my daughter the most, since she is the animal freak in the house. I thought for sure that she would be really upset. Surprisingly, though, she was the one who jumped at the chance to flush the little guy down the toilet. Instead, it was my son whose lip began to quiver and whose eyes welled up with tears.
He kept asking over and over again why Rainbow had to die as he stared at the empty bowl, and I could tell that he had a huge lump in his throat as he questioned the unfairness of it all. I tried like hell not to cry, but his sad little face broke my heart into a zillion tiny pieces. Who knew that he had any feelings at all for that crazy fish? I wanted to just hug the sadness right out of him, but I knew that I couldn’t. We talked a little about heaven and the long life that Rainbow had lived compared to other kinds of fish. And luckily, my son has his very own fish in his room, so feeding “Bob” and spending some time with him helped out a bit. He’s mentioned Rainbow every now and then, but he seems to be handling it better with time. It’s a hard, unfortunate lesson that everyone has to learn at some point in time — death just sucks, and sooner or later, we all go to swim with the fishes.