My brother died.
It was about a week after we had returned home from my brother’s funeral in Michigan when my son, Sam, found his fish dead. Tears were streaking down his sweet face as he ran into our bedroom to tell me Sam Jr. was dead. After my husband and I and our older son each offered Sam our condolences, our family made the decision to have a funeral for Sam Jr. My son, with a look of determination, said “We will have the funeral tonight after dinner. I need to decide whether I want a burial at sea or a traditional burial. I’ll think about it while I am at school today.”
As dinner approached that evening, Sam decided that a “burial at sea” (flushing Sam Jr. down the toilet) was the most appropriate burial for his fish since he would be “returning to the place he was born.”
We lit candles, dimmed the bathroom lights and listened to Sam tearfully tell stories of how he loved his fish and how much he was going to miss him. Then Sam scooped him up, gently placed him in the commode, said a prayer and flushed. That was it -Sam Jr. was gone from our lives forever.
As I held my crying son in my arms, I felt my own tears; partly from the active grief I was experiencing from my brother’s too recent death and partly from seeing my son grieve. Then he began to share with me words that sounded eerily familiar:
“Mom, I’m just going to miss him so much.”
“Mom, we read a book today in class and there was a part about a dead fish. I started to cry but I pulled it together.”
“Mom, I thought about Sam Jr. at recess today.”
“Mom, it’s going to be a while before I can talk about him and not cry.”
The words of babes! My son was repeating everything he had heard and seen our family do as we mourned and buried my brother. He was present throughout – for the visitation at the funeral home, the family meeting with the pastor, the funeral, the graveside services, the luncheon reception – and he was taking it all in, silently observing how his family grieves, how his family values ceremony, how his family begins a journey of healing.
If you know of a child or family going through the loss of a parent or sibling, I invite you to look at the amazing children’s grief resources put out by Sesame Street by clicking here.
To request a Children’s Grief Resource Packet (specially compiled by our staff) please contact me by email at email@example.com.
Did you ever have a service for a pet member of the family?
How have children in your life processed loss?
Thanks Mark. It just seemed natural for us to have all of the children be involved in my brother’s services. They are part of this family – and the good and bad things that come with it. It was very sweet to see Sam want to have ceremony for his fish- just like we did for his uncle.
Thank you, Shasta. I agree with you and I see it in my own family, we all grieve differently and we need to support one another in that. I think the most important thing is to grieve and not ignore the pain.
I have lost a few family pets throughout the years, but have not had any sort of memorial service for them. I wish I had, there is something to be said with the closure you get from having a formal goodbye and sharing stories. Your son sounds like he really needed that service, to start to heal from the loss. Thanks for sharing Becky!
Thanks Erin. Yes, I think he needed the service for his fish and so did I. Still reeling from the death of my brother, as I listened to Sam talk about the funeral for his fish, it actually brought me some peace.
Thank you for sharing such great information. It’s a pleasure to visit here. You can also visit us in Tony Gasparini Funerals .
I have had the opportunity to face a close loss in our family specifically my wife , I felt my daughters handled everything with even better composure than I had at times as they were both in their teens and wise beyond their age. We have also had the loss of a few pets and everything was very meaningful in their own way and taken care of with the same dignity and respect as they were family members to . We all learned a lot from each experience and have grown within our family when it come to grief.
Thanks Joe. I think we learned a lot as a family too and I hope we have come out stronger and better prepared to handle grief. Watching and listening to Sam eulogize his fish helped me realize that kids understand and “get” grief, no matter how young they are. Sometimes they are wiser than us adults.