An old high school friend posted to her Facebook status that her kids’ pet fish died. She was wondering what to do: buy a new one, don’t buy one. I trust it was the first death experience for her kids, and this is nothing to take lightly… even tho it’s just a fish, for the kids the loss still hurts.
What got me was the number of people commenting that she shouldn’t tell the kids, don’t let them know, and to just go out and buy a new fish and pretend nothing happened. I grant it’s “just a fish” but that approach doesn’t feel right to me.
Death is a part of life. In fact, it’s truly the only guarantee in life (taxes don’t have to be). You will experience death throughout your life and IMHO it’s better to have a healthy understanding and acceptance of it. Avoiding the issue, what good does that serve? Sure maybe it spares the child a bit of hurt now, but life is full of hurt. Shouldn’t we be teaching our children how to be strong and cope? To allow them to feel the emotion and pain of loss, and learn how to manage it so they can better deal with bigger losses later in life? While I certainly try to prevent my children from being hurt, I also understand that sometimes a little pain now could save them from big pain later in life.
A fish also happened to be the first death my children experienced. It was painful for them; I can still hear how Oldest sounded when he was crying and lamenting the loss. We comforted the children. We had a little burial out in the back flowerbed. We talked a lot. The kids didn’t want to get a new fish, but they also didn’t want to throw out his fish bowl either. We just went with the flow from day to day. We didn’t want to hide anything (we couldn’t… they were the ones that discovered the fish had died). We didn’t lie to them.
To me, that’s the crux of it all. If you don’t tell the kids and just go buy a new fish, that’s lying. We teach our children not to lie, so shouldn’t we best teach it by setting the proper example? To me, trust matters a great deal, especially in your relationship with your children. I know as I enter these teenager years, trust is going to become even more important. I’d rather be honest with my children so they know they can always trust me. Life isn’t always pretty, and to me lack of trust makes it even less pretty.