What is the proper edict for a fish funeral? An actual question I had to ponder recently. Yes, our, beloved Beta fish, aptly named, Beta, died last week. I can’t let all the blame rest on me, but mainly it was me. I cleaned his tank too good. In my defense, I will say he was not looking his beautiful flourishing self, prior to cleaning the algae-stained tank. But to see him lifeless a few hours later actually piled a whole ton of guilt on me.
I should have known the second a living thing crossed the threshold to our house, it would become mine physically and emotionally, but it started out as a pet for my son. He really wanted a fish. I figured we would get a goldfish in a bowl and call it a day. He went straight for the betas and picked the most expensive one. After a few days, I didn’t mind. He was a friendly fish, gave me lots of “jazz hands” greetings and just looked so beautiful gracefully flowing around the tank. I grew accustomed to seeing him on the kitchen counter and found myself enjoying his elegant movements.
I even upgraded him multiple times. First adding a heater (I read they like to be warm) then when I couldn’t keep the tank looking clean, I bought a bigger tank with a filter. All the while he would smile and wave at me seemingly content with his tank do dads. The whole family began to enjoy him and take for granted he was here for the long haul. But I let the weekly cleaning of the tank slide, once (or maybe twice) and we had a terrible algae problem. You know the rest of the story.
So, on to the fish funeral; I felt compelled to not just flush our family pet, plus I was terrified of what Ryan would feel knowing his fish was dead and then flushed. I worried so much, I didn’t tell him for a few hours what I suspected, plus I wanted to be sure Beta wasn’t just in shock in the sparkling clean tank. When we knew for sure, I was crushed. I don’t think I actually cried but I got choked up. The anticipation of what Ryan would do was killing me. So I talked to Dan and we decided we wouldn’t do a bait and switch. We wouldn’t try to replace the fish in order to avoid a potential emotional meltdown. We were going to confront Ryan with death with a meaningful talk. We would explain Beta had died, wait for his response, talk it out and then offer to purchase another fish if that was what he wanted. The conversation went like this:
“Ryan, can you come here, please?” I asked. Dan, Jenna and I gathered around the tank and I tried to keep my voice calm. “Ry, uh, Beta…Beta…died.”
He turned quickly to the tank and looked at his lifeless fish. “Oh…how long has he been dead?” He asked. Relevant question I guess.
I looked at Dan for an answer. Nothing. Apparently, this was on me. I guess I had to take the brunt. “A little while, hon. I think it was time for him to go to Heaven.”
What felt like a long silence fell amongst all of us and I waited for the tears or the rage or something. Ryan walked back to his computer and sat down watching whatever he had cued up on YouTube. Still trying to make a teachable, life moment out of it, I said to him across the room, “I think we should say some nice things and maybe bury him. What do you think?”
“Yeah.” He said distracted looking at his computer. “We should dig the dirt and put him in.” That made me the saddest that he knew what “bury” meant.
So, we searched for a proper burial vessel. Dan’s idea was a plastic gum container and all I could come up with was a Brighton jewelry heart-shaped box. The heart box won. It seemed appropriate, after all, that little guy won our hearts. I quickly got Beta out of the tank into the box and closed the lid. I gathered the now scattered family back downstairs and outside. We said a few awkward words about him being a good fish, Dan dug a small hole and I put the box into the dirt. We even made a small wooden cross with his name on it. It seemed like we did it right. I can’t be sure as I’ve never been to or conducted a fish funeral before.
We went inside and I searched Ryan’s face and couldn’t tell if he was sad or not, some of the perks of being on the spectrum, so I thought I would ask if he wanted another fish.
“So, should we go to the pet store and pick out a new fish?” I asked tentatively.
He looked up and said, “How ‘bout a bird?”
Yes, the devastation was potent.
So, did we do our fish justice? Did we properly put to rest a small pet? I guess if you do what’s in your heart then that’s the right thing. And apparently replacing a fish with a fish isn’t the way Ryan would go. You change species and get a bird.
I said no to the bird, and we did get more fish. Let’s just say I had a few more private fish burials. I hope I get this right soon…