“Provide the high quality, socially visible parenting your family, frienemies, and Instagram followers have come to expect.”
(Bonnie and Chris are humorists. The following is entertainment.)
It seems like only a week has passed since your family was gathered together in this same spot, crammed around the toilet, heads down in solemn reverence. But here you are again. Who could have predicted both goldfish won from the school carnival would have died so suddenly? Perhaps they were already geriatric, at the end of life? No, you think, they had such spunk. Maybe they were carriers of some zombie fish pathogen? Okay, too much Walking Dead while folding laundry. Maybe they were the victims of foul play?
You look at the suspects huddled in a semicircle around the toilet. Was it your daughter tapping on the glass? Or your son repeatedly sticking his contaminated cheeto-fingers in the bowl? Forensic evidence could make a case for either, but since they’re both under 18, it would never stick. Just then, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror as you look around. Was it me? Did I let the water get too cold?! With a wave of guilt, you break eye contact with yourself. It’s best we not dig too deeply into this tragedy.
“Would one of you like to say a few words about Elsa?” you offer.
“This is Anna, Mom! It’s like you’re not even trying,” your daughter accuses.
She might be right, but that is no way for her to talk to her mother. You reconsider the value of naming fish at all, especially after favorite movie characters. Let it go, let it go, you think to yourself. This whole ceremony is for the children; you’re doing it to help them prepare for life, where loss is a part of every…
“I have to poop!” your son interjects.
“Eeewwwww! I’m in here!” cries your daughter.
You’re losing the room, specifically, the bathroom. You know you’ve got to move this service along or the teaching moment will pass. “I’ll just say a few words and you can have some privacy. We’re here today to say goodbye to our dear fish, Elsa.” As your daughter opens her mouth, you shoot her a look of warning that inspires reconsideration. Though her mouth closes, you think her eyes question, “what’s wrong with you, woman?”
Continuing, you say, “Anna and Elsa were both great goldfish, and while they were only with us a short time, they inspired us…” You trail off, not sure how to pivot on this ridiculous word. They inspired us to do, what? Never bring home free goldfish? That’s for sure. “…they inspired us to… live every moment with, uh, vigor.” Where are these words coming from? Not sure if you saved it, you trudge on.
“And so we give her this burial at sea, fitting of the life she lived.” You gently place the fish in the toilet and ask, “who would like to do the honors?” The children simultaneously volunteer and competitively lunge at the handle. Despite the loss of decorum, they trigger the flush and mark an end to the service.
You muster a couple more thoughts as part of your teaching opportunity. “Kids, as sad as it is that both fish died, it’s important to remember that life has a beginning and an…” The soliloquy is interrupted by the screams of your children watching the toilet. It takes a moment for you to recognize what is happening. The fish is not gone, but getting bigger, closer. Somehow, the toilet is clogged and the deceased with a tsunami of unmentionables is rapidly ascending, poised to break containment.
“Back up!” you shout, instinctively reaching for the plunger. It’s gone, perhaps taken by one of the children to be used as a sword, scepter, hat, or who-knows-what. You shudder at the thought. But, before you can ask where it is, the bowl overflows, flooding Anna (or Elsa) onto the floor. Too late, you try to intervene as your son picks up the tiny dead fish, which was clearly besmirched by the contents of the toilet, and gives it one final, horrifying kiss goodbye. You nearly faint.
Taking in the fiasco, you see your intentions unraveled. How could such a critical life lesson fail so miserably? This never happens to any of the HOW DOES SHE moms. You sit, morosely contemplating these earlier moments. But if you’re glad for one thing, it’s that in an uncharacteristic move, you did not report anything via social media. You’ve dodged a bullet. People won’t ask how it went, inquire to your children, or ever know it happened. No one can ever know. This is between you and the kids, though you’ll probably need to buy their silence.
Never again will you allow such a disaster to take place. And, as luck would have it, you’ll get another shot soon since you recently gave in and bought a guinea pig. That thing is designed to die, especially given the demographic of it’s main caregivers. When it does, you’re going to totally redeem yourself. You will provide the high quality, socially visible parenting your family, frienemies, and Instagram followers have come to expect. You’re going to plan… <dramatic music> This Season’s Most Talked About (and shared) Pet Funeral (#TSMTAPF).
You are resolute in your plan. Allowing a respectful amount of time to pass after the burial-at-sea-gone-wrong, you begin making preparations for Marshmallow’s impending guinea pig funeral. It will be the talk of the town; Twitter famous. Being sensible, you understand the perfect pet funeral requires extensive planning which begins long before the varmint is dead. It starts now, in the prime of it’s life. For this reason, you assign your daughter to launch photo sessions of Marshmallow in all manor of poses and locations. After all, you’ll need those images for the Life Sketch video you’re already assembling in your mind, set to Sarah McLachlan’s “In the Arms of an Angel.” The montage will be fantastic. “Make sure you catch ALL of Marshmallow’s moods, sweetie! Sassy, pensive, jovial, but nothing tawdry! And use a variety of locations and costumes.” With your daughter’s unblinking eyes fixed on you, she backs out of the room. Reaching the hallway, she breaks into a run, either from enthusiasm or fear. It’s hard to say.
Wheels spinning, you conclude that every special event needs a carefully selected theme. To brainstorm, you consider the type of animal, and catalogue its interest. Then scan Pintrest for a list of theme ideas. For your late goldfish, you would have used a pirate theme; the fish poetically floating out to sea, cupped in an eye patch. The theme for a cat could be knitting, a rat’s could be urban. You make a mental note to get one of those animals next – because that funeral would be, in your opinion, “supes cute.”
Looking into Marshmallow’s beady, black eyes, you try to feel what kind of theme she would prefer. Several minutes pass by as you aim to read her mind. She stares back at you. You’re not sure if she is trying to communicate the deepest desires of her heart, or is simply in the process of pooping. As Marshmallow moves two hops closer, revealing a fresh mound of droppings, inspiration hits you. This guinea pig you think to yourself needs a garden party funeral service. Brilliant!
You hunker down to start assembling the guest list. Who to invite? You definitely need to include anyone who liked Marshmallow’s pictures on Facebook and Instagram. No need to plan on everyone; there’s bound to be bad blood keeping at least some from attending. (You can think of more than a few people who had the discourtesy of “lap candy” left after holding Marshmallow.) Should you include other pets? Oh, yes, you think to yourself, the recipients of Marshmallow’s estate need be present for the reading of her will.
Guest list set, you hit the Internet like the Cake Boss hits fondant. There are some printables that would make adorable invitations-But, wait! Any dead guinea pig could use printables; You need something individual to set your occasion apart from the others. Instead, you find a company willing to take an order for guinea-pig-silhouette shaped, embossed monogram invitations with three-dimensional water bottle RSVP cards. To match your garden party theme, you discover a lovely guest book containing pages infused with the scent of clovers. You confidently add it to your cart. This is not going to be another tragedy at the toilet.
Analyzing ideas for picnic brunch foods, you wisely avoid any faux pas by vetoing any dish containing marshmallows. “Certainly we won’t be eating anything bearing the same name as the departed,” you determine. And to make things easier on your future-self, you jot down a list of names to avoid for successive pets: Butterscotch, Muffin, Taffy, Pickles, Brownie, T-Bone, OREO!!!… In addition to the homemade Squeaky Cheese recipe, you pin several “perfect” recipes for Vegetarian Canape-fitting to the theme, and include another for Kale Quinoa Salad with a Protein Shake Reduction. Then you find a local, vegan bakery and pre-order a Carrot Cake. “Of course,” you giggle to yourself, marveling at your own brilliance. “Marshmallow loves carrots.” You fire off a quick email to the baker because the likeness on the cake topper must be just right.
You design the ceremony’s printed program in a creative fervor using an ornamental calligraphic font. “ ‘In memory?’ ” you whisper. “No. ‘A Celebration?’ Yes!” Having weighed the options, you elect to deliver the eulogy yourself. (After all, it’s you who cleans Marshmallow’s cage more often than anyone else.) To follow the eulogy, you conclude not to leave it to “open mic” lest someone uses the platform to talk about their own maladies or, perish the thought, infers that the deceased had some action on the side. Nope! Secrets that should die with Marshmallow may be divulged. No need to chance possible scandal; only pre-approved speeches from carefully selected candidates allowed.
Though cremation opens up some interesting options in decorative urns, you use only a moment conflicted by methods for Marshmallow’s interment, and ultimately select burial in a decoupaged and bejeweled casket. It will look fabulous. (Thankfully Marshmallow is a girl, because bedazzling a male animal’s casket, well, it just isn’t done.) Being the modern mom you are, you decide to construct your own, one-of-a-kind chest rather than purchasing the common $85 hardwood box online. It will give the affair a “personal touch,” and you and the kids will take it on as an after school art project. No shoebox or brown parcel package here! You chuckle to an empty room, satisfied with the artistic direction this is taking.
Although the table runners are a little pricey, you know they will “really pop” against the statement piece: a guinea pig sculpture, hand carved and assembled from organic eggplants and other vegetation. You even solicit a photographer that specializes in “live-posting” so that you won’t have to manage your social media during the event. After all, you’ll be mourning. A super-mom would publish something like this in real-time, so you’ll need professional help.
Everything is falling into place. A short email verifies the string quartet you hired is not allergic to dander and they can play Amazing Grace, My Heart Will Go On, Circle of Life, and Danny Boy, which would be cooler if you were burying an Irish Setter. Maybe next time.
You locate a photo booth with a full selection of pet-supply props. You click it. You procure a piece of green turf, pre-cut to your mini specifications. You click it! Animal themed bounce house. Click!! Custom, quilted name banner? Double-click! Oh, And LED twinkle lights for the trees! Add to cart!!
You’re in the zone, the Mozart of pet funerals, composing a symphony of color and sound, texture and ambiance. Guests will cry as they walk under the custom, reclaimed, BPH-free trellis and into the catered expanse of your garden ceremony. They will proudly display their takeaway gifts on the rear window of their cars, a vinyl sticker reading,
Marshmallow, the guinea pig
You click on the shopping cart for a quick look at your collection and see the sum of your glorious, morbid creativity. Would you really spend over $2,300 on a pet funeral? Two words: free shipping. Besides, you wouldn’t spend that much on every pet funeral, but an argument could be made that a lot of this stuff can be reused, and more importantly, that this first event will set the bar. Finger poised on the checkout button, you become aware that someone is near, very near.
“What are you doing, mommy?” your son asks. You didn’t even realize he’s been standing there during your furious shopping spree. “How much has he seen?” you panic, “what does he know?”
“Well, sweetie, I was just looking to get a few things for Marshmallow.” You both glance at the page and the reality of your digital shopping cart becomes painfully evident. It’s like Edgar Allen Poe’s grocery list. You realize you have even blocked out some possible funeral-weekend dates on your calendar next to your computer. Your daughter’s voice echoes in your mind, “what’s wrong with you, woman?” Humiliation hits as you become aware that you were about to shift focus to initiating the hunt for coordinating family outfits.
“Is she going to die?” A look of concern washes over his sweet, innocent face. You both turn to look at Marshmallow’s cage. She is calm and happy, looking as adorable and healthy as ever. You both stare for a moment, taking in her squeaky cuteness. As if to acknowledge the sudden concern for her well-being, she munches on leafy greens, and poops.
“Someday, sweetheart,” you console, “none of us live forever. That’s why it’s important to take good care of her and enjoy every moment we can.” You realize that this teaching moment is as good as any, the one you’d hoped for during the fish-funeral-fail. It hits you. Not every life event needs to be over-planned, color coordinated, or Instagram ready. Real moments happen the way they happen. Parenting is imperfect. Your children don’t need a perfect pet funeral, they just want you, your love, your thoughts, and your time.
With a look of contentment, your son walks to the cage for some quality time with Marshmallow.
And, after he’s not looking, you hit the checkout button to purchase these supplies anyway, just to be safe. You’ll store them in their own tote in your craft closet. Tragic opportunity could strike at any time and you’d prefer to be prepared.
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