Mourning Vehicles

A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter's fish, a Beta named Red Hulk, died. She asked me if I would do a funeral for him, as is our custom, and I agreed. She wrote some prayers for the service, put a candle at the grave site, as well as Red Hulk's favorite Hello Kitty sign.

The service was conducted with somber reverence (at least until our closing song). We gathered as a family around the grave, we prayed, we shared stories, and then we buried Red Hulk in the earth of our backyard.

She cried. Cried as if her best friend died. Cried as if one of us had died. You might be thinking, small children get attached to their pets, what's so strange about that? But here's the thing, Red Hulk was only with us for a couple days. How attached could she have been to a fish she just met days earlier? Even in spite of the fact that children are capable of wondrous love and compassion, it seemed odd, out of place, at least to us on the outside of her mind and heart. Maybe all of those tears weren't just for Red Hulk.

When people hear that we do these funerals for our children's pets, no matter how long we've known them, we usually get a chuckle, or an odd look, or "How sweet." However, I don't do these funerals to be sweet. I do them to provide a place to mourn, a place to grieve, a place for loss.

Children often are not given places to mourn or grieve. Not with the regularity that we adults get. If you think about it, we come up with all kinds of places to mourn and grieve, usually more than people really want to hear about it. But children are usually seen as these little happy-go-lucky beings without a care in the world. What could a child possibly need to grieve or mourn?

I have no idea, and that's not really the point. A child's life is full of just as many ups and downs as an adult's. And so, a child needs just as many outlets to mourn those "downs" as we do, they need vehicles for their grief as well. Only for a child, they can't just call a friend to vent, or cry on their shoulder, or go have a beer with. Chances are, they may not even recognize their inner need for mourning.

As a parent, I've taken on the responsibility of manufacturing some of those vehicles for their emotions to ride on. Many parents do a pretty good job of that for an emotion like joy but when it comes to mourning, grief, and loss, we tend to drop the ball. How many times have you heard a parent ask "What are you crying about?" Or the infamous, "Do you want me to give you something to cry about?" Now, don't get me wrong, children's emotions can be so out of whack that they do in fact cry for no reason sometimes.

With her supportive sisters,
right before our closing song,
Red Hulk's favorite,
"What does the fox say?"
But, just in case a child does have reasons to mourn (good reasons, in fact, through their eyes), how about we acknowledge those needs, honor those needs, and give them vehicles for those unsightly emotions to ride on, whether it's in a fleeting moment, or a funeral service for a fish that you just met the other day.

There's no need to ask many questions, or try and figure out what the tears are really about. Just let them mourn. And if you can muster up enough of the divine that is within you, mourn with them.