All Fish Go To Heaven

23 09 2007

We said goodbye to Talbert this morning. Talbert was a dear, dear friend whom we purchased from a scummy, over-crowded fish tank at the scummy, over-crowded Sprawlmart on Friday. A dead goldfish that we’ve had for less than 72 hours is not normally something I’d shed a tear over, but in this particular case, I bawled like a baby. Not because of the random unfairness of the grim fish reaper (I liked Talbert much better than his still living partner, Otto) , or the couple of bucks we just flushed down the toilet(fish are pricey considering the roughly 85% mortality rate). Nor did I cry because I am seven months pregnant and have developed a tendency to find heartbreaking poignancy in just about everything, including, but not limited to, breakfast foods (don’t get me started on scrambled eggs! Sniff.) It was the reactions of my four-year old daughter that opened the floodgates. Neener was the one who noticed. She notices everything. She announced that Talbert was “lost”, but then she found him. Tits up in Walla Walla on the surface of the water. I gave the dead fish speech, the one I had begun rehearsing in my head moments after I saw my husband coming toward me with a smiling kid and some fish in a bag. I had delivered variations of the speech – how things that are alive can die, and are thus dead, when their bodies don’t work anymore – many times over the past few weeks, as Neener has started to ask questions. So the concept of death was not new. What was new was actually having death in our midst, and realising that there was nothing she (or the “Fish Maker” at the store) could do to make Talbert alive again. Once that fact was faced, we had to deal with the aftermath. I hugged her, cried with her, and got my husband out of bed to do the dirty work of retrieving the corpse and arranging the flush – er, I mean – funeral.

To ease our own conscience about the callous optics of flushing our beloved Talbert away like so so much bodily waste, we explained that when a fish dies, it’s body needs to go back to the lake, and the quickest way for it to get there was via the toilet. Neener asked if Talbert would be able to swim again when he reached the lake. And who would look after him and feed him fish crispies there, as we had done. I had no choice, I had to play the Heaven card. The idea of Heaven, God and religion in general is a whole other kettle of dead fish that I won’t get in to today. Let’s just say that it’s a constant source of internal debate for me because I’m not even sure what I think and what I believe, much less what brand of spirituality I should be instilling in my children, if any. But this morning, as my welling eyes darted back and forth between my heartbroken four-year old and the dead goldfish, I had to make a decision. Do I stick with the fantasy-free, concrete facts; the cold clinical view of life and death that my inner atheist advocates? Or do I offer up the comforting notion that death is not really a traumatic ending, but the beginning of a spiritual journey to a better place, where even lowly goldfish get to flop around in eternal bliss? Today, comfort won. I told Neener that while Talbert’s body was going to the lake, his spirit – all the invisible things that made him the Talbert we knew and loved – was already gone to a beautiful invisible place called Heaven. And instantly, the crying and the questions stopped. Talbert was in Heaven, and Heaven is a happy place. Enough said. So, rest in peace Talbert. Have fun in fish Heaven. I have a feeling that your friend Otto won’t be far behind you. Which makes me think that I need to get a bag of back-up fish, so that Otto can be replaced before anyone else realises he’s gone when the time comes. It’ll save me from having to re-hash the dead fish speech, and from having to field more probing questions about Heaven. Questions I’m not yet ready to answer. It will also allow me to do all my flushing and crying in private, since I’ve grown inexplicably more attached to Otto in the last few hours. It’s what Talbert would have wanted.







2 responses

4 04 2008
nanny patterson

Dear amy,
I have just finished reading all the stuff on you blog. I am sitting here crying my old eyes out: not because I’m sad, but because I am remembering another young mother who worried about every decision she ever made. Even though all those decisions may not have been perfect, they were the best the young mother could do. Now you know what I mean.
Every step in life is a journey no matter if you are young, old, “normal”, or just different. Remember the willie nelson song, he ain’t wrong he’s just different. Well wouldn’t the world suck if we were all the same. The god loves diversity.

9 04 2008

My pleasure to have to have made you cry. In the good way, of course. Now for the love of god, go read the stuff that will make you laugh!

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