i went home clutching a pen that looked like a car, courtesy of a medrep, for my boy. i knew he would be excited to see this. he’s been writing a lot these days.
when i arrived, the boys jumped up and hugged me. then my mother-in-law, out of the blue, said, “i think one of the guinea pigs is dead.”
it was news to me, and apparently to my eldest boy too.
“can i see it?” he asked, hurriedly putting on his slippers.
“we’ll just buy a new one,” my mom-in-law said.
i knew there was trouble when suddenly, after seeing the dead animal, matt left the cage, went to the corner, held on to the clothes pole, and put his head down. he began to sob quietly.
i went to him, held his hand, and asked him to follow me. my in-laws had apparently not gotten the message how hurt my son was because of the dead guinea pig. it was his guinea pig, affectionately named “mario” as soon as we got him. “we’ll get a new one,” my in-laws insisted.
his quiet sobs turned into cries of grief. it was heart-wrenching to hear it. he hung on to me, clinging desparately. his face was buried on my shoulder. his tears were soaking my shirt. he shuddered after each cry, catching his breath, only to cry louder… we stayed this way for a full hour.
“i don’t want him to die,” he said.
“i don’t either,” i replied.
i told him that God gave mario to us for this short time, to care for him, as we must do for all living things. i told him that death is a part of life, that mario was in a better place – a heaven for guinea pigs, with Jesus taking care of him now.
“why did he have to die?” he asked again.
“i don’t know,” i said.
we said a prayer for the guinea pig. he prayed as he cried. it was a beautiful, simple prayer.
i told him that when i was young, i too had a pet, a dog that died much too soon. i told him i understood how he felt. and i told him it was going to get better.
i told him that daddy goes to work in the hospital everyday, taking care of sick people. that even when daddy does his best, sometimes his patients still died.
“i don’t want it that mario died,” he said.
slowly, as the tears dried up, so did his grief.
“the other guinea pig sort of looks like my guinea pig,” he said. “he has brown, white, and black spots too.”
i guess he was beginning to transfer his feelings towards the other guinea pig.
“yes, they look alike,” i began, “but this is not mario, this is luigi. and it is now our chance to care for him like we did for mario.”
“yes, we should take care of him,” he said.
then he slipped off my knees, wiped his swollen eyes, and said, “can i borrow your ipad now?”
such is the grief of a child.
and yes, the pen that was shaped like a car was forgotten too soon.