Oh boy. We came downstairs yesterday morning and Everest went to feed the fish. As I was cooking breakfast he said, “Mommy, what’s Mocha doing?” My heart sank as I walked over to the tank and peered inside to find, as expected, Mocha belly up next to the filter. HSP that I am, tears filled my eyes as I said, “Oh, sweetheart, Mocha died.” He looked up at me and wrinkled his brow, then said,
“Well, she’s on her way to fish heaven.”
“She’ll come back again as another fish,” I said, hopefully.
“No,” he said. “Once a creature goes to heaven, they don’t come back again. It’s only when they go to the Kitten Crane that they reincarnate. But wait a minute! I can send a message to the Kitten Crane to rescue Mocha’s spirit! Hold on!”
He ran over to his Lego cubby and called, through cupped hands, to the kitten crane. “Kitten Crane. Kitten Crane. Come in. You have to rescue Mocha’s spirit from heaven so she can reincarnate. Goodbye.”
We went about the business of fishing the dead fish out of the tank and proceeded to clean out the entire aquarium that had become quite cloudy over the past couple of weeks. We had heard and read that cloudiness is normal for a new tank so I was reluctant to dump out all the water and start our biological environment from scratch, but there certainly was a rank smell emanating from the water and it seemed right to start fresh. We scooped out Spunky and Sequoia (the two survivors) and put them into fresh water, then cleaned the aquarium from top to bottom. We put Mocha’s carcass into a small plastic bowl and asked Everest where we should bury her. Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “Next to the place where Moonca the caterpillar is hibernating.”
I’ve heard that one of the gifts of having animal is that they inevitably teach children about death, and that’s certainly been the case these past few months, starting with saying goodbye to Mocha the cat and now saying goodbye to Mocha the fish. Death is a part of life, and I know how important it is to teach children about death in healthy ways, but it’s been a lot for Everest to digest lately. The fish’s death left another hole in him; last night, for the first night since we got the fish, Everest was filled with fear and dread as he tried to fall asleep. “Mommy, I’m scared, please hold me close,” he whispered several times. I haven’t heard those words in weeks, and it both fascinated and grieved me. It seems that every time Mocha dies, the fear of death comes barreling into his psyche and can only be assuaged by another reincarnation.
Mocha’s death also alerted me to a truth that I see over and over again with my clients: the anticipation of death – or the unknown or marriage or whatever the specific transition – is much worse than the transition itself. In other words, ever since the fish arrived there’s been a part of me that has feared walking into the room and finding a dead fish. I’ve heard that keeping fish alive can be challenging, and I dreaded what Everest would go through should he fid a dead fish. Well, the worse happened, and he survived. It had an affect, but he’s okay and hopefully, once we get another fish, the hole of death will be filled in. It reminds me of my clients who’s fears about getting married dramatically diminish after the wedding. It’s called anticipatory anxiety, and the best way to work with it is to keep moving forward toward the dreaded event while reminding ourselves, over and over again, that whatever happens we will handle it.
On that note, Everest is now scared to approach the fish tank because he doesn’t want to see a dead fish. It seems he was understandably a bit traumatized by being the one who found Mocha belly-up. Hopefully, when Mocha 3 arrives and he’s had some time to trust that the other two fish are okay, the fear will diminish and he’ll return to his happiness and excitement about watching and taking care of his new friends. For now, we’ll hold him through his fear and try to fill the hole of an unfinished transition with our love and reassurance.