Saying goodbye to our family pet

When their fish became a floater, Tracy had to figure out how to break the news to Anna and Avery.

By Tracy Chappell
Saying goodbye to our family pet

Here is Angelina's resting place, adorned with some of Anna's favourite rocks.

She was just a fish. But she was our fish, and the only pet we’ve had. On Saturday, Sean went to clean the tank and we discovered that our little friend wasn’t moving. She’d been acting odd during the week, but had done that before and always bounced back. This time, she didn’t.
She was a gift to Anna for her fourth birthday. Anna was delighted and, after spending several quiet minutes gazing at the fish sashaying around the tank with her beautiful blue fins, Anna announced that her name was Angelina. (And I know she was actually a boy, but what did it matter?)
Confession time: The fish that has been living with us for the majority of the time isn’t the original Angelina. That lovely creature only lasted four months before going belly-up. In a strange twist of fate, both girls were away overnight with my parents when this happened (which never happens!), so instead of having “the conversation,” we replaced her. Don’t tell. The kids didn’t notice the slightly longer body or fleck of red in her fin.
So this Angelina was with us for almost two years. Admittedly, the kids haven’t paid a great deal of attention to her, but they always included her in their drawings of our family, and talked about her and seemed proud to have her as their pet.
We called them into the kitchen to tell them, and to let them see her. Avery’s reaction was exactly as you’d expect: Her face fell, and she looked near tears and asked, “Why did she have to die?” I picked her up and cuddled her and Anna quickly jumped in to say, “She got old, Avery. Fish can’t live as long as people.” Anna seemed more fascinated than upset, staring at Angelina in the container. She smiled — what I now know is a kind of nervous, involuntary reaction when she’s faced with something serious. She was full of questions about what we were going to do with her …and could we get another fish?
It was a strange juxtaposition, their different reactions, but somehow we muddled through the conversation. We decided that we should bury Angelina in our yard. Avery moped sadly while Anna busied herself figuring out how we should do it, where she should be buried, etc. We found a flat rock that Anna marked with Angelina’s name (and added her own, with a heart). Anna has a “collection” in our backyard of rocks and shells and things she picks up when we’re out, so we decided that was a good, special spot. We wrapped Angelina in paper towel and Anna came up with the idea of putting her inside an empty juice box to keep her safe.
Sean dug a hole and we covered her over. We put her little grave marker on top, and Anna and Avery chose some special stones and things to put around it. I asked Anna if she wanted to say a prayer. She didn’t. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but figured we should say something, so I said that my favourite thing about Angelina was how she’d come up to my face when I looked in the tank and start flapping her fins really fast, like she was excited to see me. Sean said he liked when Angelina jumped up when he fed her. Avery said she was really going to miss Angelina. Anna said she loved when Angelina would follow her finger as she moved it outside of the tank.
Over the next few days, both girls commented several times that they were sad that Angelina was gone, so we talked about it a little bit — that we were going to miss her and that she was a very special pet, and part of our family.
I think we will get a new fish, but first, I want to give us a little time to miss our very first family pet, before moving on.
Have you had to deal with the loss of a pet since you’ve had kids? How did your family handle it?

This article was originally published on Apr 25, 2012

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