Today we said goodbye, amidst many tears, to our beloved bunny of 5 years, Jack. He was the sweetest thing ever, bought for my daughter on Easter Day, March 31st, 2002, which just happened to be her birthday as well. She and I cried together as we contemplated the image of Jack and the baby-who-left-too-soon snuggling together on Heaven’s meadow. If that thought is too smarmy for you, I don’t want to know, so keep it to yourself.
On the form we filled out in the vet’s office where we said our farewells, there was a space that said “do you feel like your pet is: [check here] a member of the family (or) [check here] just a pet”. One seemed like a little too much, but the other was definitely a little too…little.
In honor of his life, I decided to post here a little something I wrote many years ago for a magazine that is now defunct. And if you want to see how really cute Jack was, here’s a link to his webpage: http://www.beautifulheritage.com/jack.html
The children are having a funeral…again. I am asked to say a few words in behalf of the deceased, so I follow the somber-faced, shovel-burdened troop out to the west end of the back yard, where the grave has been prepared. As the body is carefully set into its final resting place by loving hands, I begin my eulogy:
“Fiona was a good gerbil…”
The speech ends with a brief prayer, and the children are satisfied. They lay a few flowers upon the grave, and the oldest places a rough cross, hastily fashioned out of sticks, over the tiny mound of earth. A few sighs are heard, a few tears are shed, and they disperse to find more light-hearted occupations. Standing alone in the autumn sunshine, I take stock. Here, in this grass-less corner, lie three guinea pigs, two gerbils, a snake, a toad, and a baby bird. The latter three were all found DOD (dead on discovery) while playing outside, but were none the less carefully and dutifully interred.
We are not the first to use this corner as a cemetary. During recent excavations, the entire skeleton of a cat was unearthed, to the mixed horror and delight of all involved. It’s discovery was mysterious and comforting, and debates ensued as to how old it was, and how long it had been there. The burial was not careless, though time had left very little clue to tell any story about the owners. Were they children, too? Was there a parent speaking words of remembrance over the lifeless form? Did they cry? The consensus was Yes; Yes, of Course. They felt a kinship with these bereft pet-owners-gone-before, and somehow the presence of the cat lent credence to their own tears, for it is nice to know you are not alone in grief.
In the ebb and flow of a busy household, these moments are fleeting, but the ripples caused by them spread out in ever-widening circles. The four year old, laying in bed that night, asks me Do Animals Go to Heaven?, and the five year old chimes in with When Will I Die? and Are You Going to Die, Mommy? Suddenly the entire bedroom is abuzz with questions, and a lively discussion about the nature of Heaven, of God, and of the meaning of Forever ensues. My children have never attended a funeral apart from the backyard, and yet they know that people, like pets, die. These backyard burials are the first lessons in finality, the first encounters with the eternal, and they leave their mark.
I am tired at the end of the day, and yet…I take care to linger. The days too busy, it seems, to answer the important questions, and so it is here, in bed, when the lights are turned out, that the answers must come, if I have them at all. I try to explain what I know to be true, to put into words the Hope that we hold if we hold onto Jesus. I give them my theory that if Jesus comes back upon a white horse, then mightn’t there be animals in Heaven? I tred carefully upon the truth that I do not know the future, even as much as one minute from now, and yet I do not think that I will be going to Heaven anytime very soon. They discuss how wonderful a place Heaven must be, and one expresses a wish that she could go this very minute. I do not mention that I pray fervently that she remains with me a while longer, but agree that it will indeed be wonderful to be there together someday.
The discussion ends, kisses and hugs are distributed, and soon sleep descends upon my small philosophers. I leave the room weary, and yet my spirit is light, for I know the conversation did not go unnoticed. Angels, I am certain, smiled more than once as they listened, and One much greater than they was also very near, supplying me with the words to say. It is His words, falling upon the receptive soil of a tender heart, that will carry my children through the funerals of childhood and far beyond.