A recent e-mail response I sent to an inquiring friend: “Yes, everything’s going well, except for the dead goldfish in my freezer. My husband tried to save it this morning by placing it in fresh water in MY FANCY TRIFLE BOWL (can you say bleach?), but it didn’t work. We thought we’d let Ladybug have a funeral for it, so my husband put it in a large matchbox in a baggie and then placed it in the freezer. As a nice touch, he placed a small piece of red velvet over its body.”
I had happened upon the fish earlier that day, the poor dear floating belly-up but still breathing in the new tank in Ladybug’s room. I gasped loudly enough that my husband came to see what was up. We looked at each other and nodded in silent agreement: get Ladybug out of the house and on her way to kindergarten before she sees her friend Goldy on his last fins. By the time I got home it was curtains for the poor guy. Ladybug’s dad and I talked about whether to buy a new fish and keep her in the dark or let her go through the process of burying and grieving for Goldy. We decided to encourage having a funeral for the fish since she’s 6 now and can understand more about the process. We also thought it would be a good chance to revisit our belief in Heaven and in being reunited with lost loved ones there someday.
So my husband did the aforementioned covering of the gold fish in a red velvet blanket of sorts and placing it inside one of those large matchboxes (Goldy was no small goldfish). Then he placed the matchbox in a baggie and the whole shebang into the freezer for future burial proceedings.
When it got close to 3 and pick-up time, I prepared to tell Ladybug that Goldy had died while she was at school and explain how people often bury their pets and have funerals for them. But after we got home, she went to a neighbor’s house to play instead of coming into the house. I was relieved. I hadn’t been sure how I’d sneak him out of the freezer without her seeing.
After letting her play a while, I grabbed the box out of the freezer and stuck it outside the back door. I located a shovel, then went up to retrieve Ladybug and tell her the sad news. I wanted to tell her sooner rather than later. I knew at bedtime she would definitely notice that only one goldfish remained in the 10-gallon tank. She goes to sleep watching them swim contentedly.
So I told her I had some bad news and explained that Goldy had died. She started crying right away, then wanted to go home to have that funeral I’d mentioned. We dug a hole in the backyard flower garden and prepared to put the box in the hole. Then she said she’d like to see Goldy just one last time. I thought it might give her closure, so I said sure. Unfortunately, when she peeled back the red velvet coverlet, poor Goldy looked as white as a ghost with a bad case of freezer burn. She screeched and nearly threw the box. I grabbed the matchbox and explained that he must have turned white since he’d been out of the water for a while. I didn’t care to get into the facts about refrigeration and bodies and decomposition. Her dad got home from work just as we were about to continue with the funeral. I told him he was just in time to help us pay our final respects.
After I’d covered Goldy back up and placed the box in the hole, Ladybug and her dad watched me cover it with dirt. Then we bowed our head and our little girl prayed for God to take care of Goldy up there in heaven, because he had been a faithful fish for a long time. She said she knew God would play with him and make sure he had enough food. She sounded very sure of this.
We each kept our head bowed for a little while after the prayer had ended, thinking about Heaven and what it might be like there. “He was a good fish,” my husband finally said, ending our reverie. “He was,” Ladybug agreed solemnly, picking up a rock engraved with the words “Spring” and adding it to the top.