It was a hard weekend in the Cushman household. We lost our pet Guinea Pig Tommy and subsequently learned about death. These are those conversations you aren’t ever really prepared for and depending on the circumstances you may say different things. I am a realist and I understand that pets are a great learning experience for children. They can experience happiness, accomplishment, responsibility, and growth with an animal. They can also learn about death.
There is no “safe way” of teaching about death, but if it must happen for a first time I’d rather it be an animal. Human death is obviously normally far more traumatic and the death of a pet is a great opportunity to learn what death is and what it means. I took that opportunity this weekend.
We woke up to a sick Guinea Pig and I was alerted by a cry for help. I made my way into the room and instantly knew something was wrong. My wife had the children leave the room and I used a towel to gently pick Tommy up. He was gasping and looked like he was terribly sick. While I held his small body I called the closest vet to see what could be done and if I could take him in. I was told that guinea pigs aren’t seen by all veterinarians and that was due to the type of pet we had. Guinea pigs just aren’t worth saving apparently.
Tommy died in my hands. I watched as he lay on his side and gasped out his last breathes. Damn it was hard to see. My wife began to cry from the doorway as I wrapped his body in the towel I had been holding him in and made my way downstairs. I grabbed a shovel and went into the backyard to bury him in the morning sun. I placed a few large stones on top of his grave to help keep the scavengers away and returned inside with the job done. But it wasn’t over of course.
It is hard for men to watch women cry. It is even harder to watch your children cry. When everyone is crying it feels awful and all you can do is hold them. You hold them and you tell them it will be ok. You tell them Tommy is in a better place and that he knew love before he passed away. You make yourself believe these things so that doubt doesn’t show in your eyes. Kids are intuitive and can pick up on a lie. So you tell your best lies and you hope they accept them.
We spoke of death and God because it is what my father would have done in my shoes as a priest. I am not a priest, but I strived to explain as best as I could. I pushed through even when having to explain that resurrection doesn’t happen to pets unfortunately. Tommy wouldn’t be rising from the dead. He was truly gone and it was ok to cry. It was ok to miss him.
Jason C. Cushman