I am preparing to do another funeral, but I’m struggling because I have been flipping through the UM Book of Worship and have not found a liturgy for fish. My daughter will be three in January. She has a pet fish named Dorothy (I think 95% of fish owned by kids under 5 are named either Dorothy or Nemo). It is sick.
It is a Beta. Once it was a brilliant red, with flowing fins and a swatch of glowing blue. Once it swam around her tank, eager for a couple of little pellets. We swore that she would come out from behind her rock whenever our daughter entered the room. We had some adventures with Dorothy. There was the time our daughter, while we thought she was napping, got the can of fish food.
She somehow unscrewed the top and gave Dorothy enough food to last about six years. Then she spilled the other half of the can in her bed. That was our first call to poison control (Beta food is okay for toddlers).
Our daughter was so excited when we brought Dorothy home. For months she kissed the tank good night and was very good about feeding her. Eventually, the novelty wore off, but she never stopped loving Dorothy. Over the last few weeks Dorothy has not looked so good. Ellie has been very concerned, and we have prepared her for the worst.
“Dorothy is very sick,” I told her. “She might die soon.”
Ellie knows a little about death. She has been to funerals. We have allowed her to see bodies laying in state. We talk to her about death. I’m not sure what she understands, but we haven’t hidden it from her. We feel that society does enough death-denying. We don’t have to participate in it too. Sometimes she asks questions or says things that give us pause. But we try to be consistent in telling her that eveything dies. Even Dorothy, even our dog, even Mommy and Daddy.
“Will I die?” she asks.
“When I die, we can die together,” she says as she looks in my eye. Inside I agree. If she dies before me, there is no question that I will die too. Every parent that has seen their child die has died a little too.
“Ellie,” I say as I take her hands and look her in the eye. “We will all die someday, hopefully not for a very long time. And if you die, I’ll be so sad, but I know that you’ll be with God. But right now we are living, and I love you, and we can enjoy living every day and be thankful that we are alive.”
I don’t know if we have done the right thing in talking with our two-year-old about death, but I’m not afraid to talk to her about important things – big things – things she might not understand. The thing is, talking to a two-year-old about things makes you boil things down a little.
We live. We die. In between we do everything we can to love and laugh and and share and dance and sing and play. Through it all, God is with us. God is in our creation. God celebrates our triumphs, mourns our tragedies, and in the end, God is ready to take us home.