Life, Death and Goldfish

Last week one of our goldfish, Clive 2, died. We'd only had him for about a year so I was a bit sad, especially considering that his predecessor (the original Clive) had lived until he was nearly twenty years old. Nobody believes me when I say that. They all think that my mum must have been replacing him for years but it really was the same fish. He had distinctive markings and a funny shaped tail. He was a little fishy miracle.

But I digress.

Back to Clive 2. He'd been looking peaky for a few days so it wasn't really a shock when Carl came downstairs on Wednesday morning to find him floating. He assures me that he was disposed of respectfully (i.e. not down the toilet) and that was that. I wasn't too worried about Jack noticing or getting upset. He doesn't pay much attention to the fish - they're not things he can maul/lick/throw around. But later that same day:

'Mummy, there's only one fish. Where is orange fish?'

'Erm, well he's gone.'

'Where has he gone to?'

Shit. I could hardly tell him he's hopped on his pushbike and gone for a quick jaunt around the block but will be back in time for tea. So, this time, I chose honesty.

'Well he was very poorly so he's gone to fishy heaven.'

'Ooooooh fishy heaven. Bye bye fishy. Can I have a biscuit now?'

Gone but not forgotten

Straight over his head. Just like that. The harsh facts of life and death summed up in the mind of a three year old as something so simple as two fish in a bowl becoming one fish in a bowl. I'd got away with it this time. But it did make me wonder what I would have said had his questions been a bit more probing. Because let's face it, death is a scary thing and it's not easy to explain. Ceasing to exist while the world continues is pretty mind blowing and something most adults struggle to comprehend, so how can a three year old be expected to understand? Should they understand? Do they really need to know about things like disease, war, accidents, murder, old age, apocalypse? I'm not so sure.

And how am I supposed to explain what happens when we die when I'm not even sure myself? As much as I'd like to believe in an afterlife where we all ride unicorns in the clouds while Spirit In The Sky plays on repeat, it doesn't seem very likely? But the alternative - eternal nothingness - well that's a tough thought to come to terms with, even for me.

It was a pretty morbid week, actually. A few days before Clive 2's passing we went to the library and Jack chose a book called Badger's Parting Gifts. I didn't look at it beforehand (how offensive can a book about woodland creatures be?!) and it was only when we started reading it that night that I realised it was a story about an old, weary badger who went down 'the long tunnel' leaving his friends, moley, foxy and froggy, feeling very sad. I was tempted to stop reading half way through because, once again, I was nervous about the questions it could throw up. But it turned out to be quite a sensitive and uplifting story about Badger's acceptance of his demise and how his friends were eventually able to remember him with happiness, treasuring the memories and lessons he had given them.

I guess books like this exist to help children come to terms with the concept of death. So they don't fear it and can even take something positive away from it. And I suppose my job is to be honest about the facts of life and try and make sure that Jack is emotionally equipped to deal with them as best as he can. So while I won't be actively inviting any death related questions (or putting The Lion King on) anytime soon, I guess I've realised that it isn't a conversation I need to completely dread.

Have you had this chat with your little ones yet? How did you handle it?

My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows


  1. Sometimes I wish I could just hide from all the big questions. Hopefully I'll feel a little more prepared by the time they roll around.
    Thanks for linking up to #fartglitter x

  2. We were goldfish death as we went through about 3 in the same month then gave up. For the sake of the fish. We had plenty of discussions about death that month and did a full burial and everything