Last night, my son lost his first pet; a guinea pig named “Morris.”
At first, Asa seemed to take the news of Morris’ passing in stride, dutifully and almost happily helping pick an appropriately-sized box for the guinea pig’s small body.
“Dad, we should have a funeral.”
“Absolutely. Do you want to have a small service, pal?”
“Yeah. Will you say something?”
“Yes. Will you?”
He paused for a moment and I could see him fighting off tears… “No. I don’t want to.”
Then he started to let his emotions catch up with him.
“I’m really sorry, buddy.”
“It’s okay, Dad.”
“Well, it doesn’t have to be. Some things just suck. It’s totally fine if this just sucks right now.”
“This sucks, Dad.”
We hugged and cried together for a good, long while.
“Dad, I want to give the other guinea pig away.”
“Well, buddy… let’s do one thing at a time, k? Let’s go say goodbye and remember Morris first.”
“I just…” he cupped his face in his 6-year-old hands and said “I just don’t want to feel this way again.”
Man… that kid just put into words something I’ve felt 1000x over as an adult.
I don’t want to feel that way again.
I get up.
I love again.
We hiked the hill adjacent our home and dug a hole to lay Morris in. Asa covered him up and then said, “Sit down here with me.”
We talked about our favorite memories of Morris. There weren’t that many… most of them had to do with Morris not being like his brother, Borris (the other guinea pig), who steals food and doesn’t like to be touched. We prayed. Asa prayed that Morris had a good life and was happy. We thanked God for the opportunity to take care of Morris for a while. We talked about what a “soul” might be and whether or not Asa might see Morris again. I told him I didn’t think that’s how it worked with animals.
He nodded until his head sagged. Then we hugged again and cried together for a while longer. I waited until he said it was time to go. It wasn’t my job to control the situation. It was my job…
…it was my privilege to walk him into that all-too-real space in life where absence and loss and hurt have their way with us for a while. It was a kind of sacred responsibility to share what bit of wisdom I have about these moments when darkness and light are all mixed up…
That there is sadness in the life we get to live.
(Good grief is there sadness)
But that I don’t get to go around it if I want to fully live.
I get to (have to?) go through it.
Because the only life there ever is (and ever has been) in relation to death is on the other side of it.
We walked back down the hill and he asked if he could carry the shovel.
“Maybe I’ll get a dog” he said.
I held back a chuckle and started in with “Well, buddy… Let’s just…” until he cut me off, saying…
“I’ll just talk to mom about it.”