The kids are alright

I could not have predicted my first thought that morning would be how to dispose of a body. What a sinister thought before I even poured my morning coffee.

Romeo, oh Romeo, dear sweet pet hamster Romeo, the four-legged master escape artist has passed on. He cheated the frail metal bars of two different cages, escaped near death at the merciless paws of the new kitten, and even defied gravity in his daring leaps from shelves and stairways. But in the end, he could not cheat death.

Poor Juliet, his faithful companion in the neighboring bedroom, has lived the metaphor of her namesake (I checked; she left no hemlock potions behind). And so begins a difficult life lesson for my children: death happens.

“I know Mommy,” said my son, Romeo’s caretaker. “Everything that lives eventually dies.” Sigh. Wise boy. We’ve had this talk a thousand times before, but to date, the situation of loss has always been somewhat removed from their reality. My children have watched their parents grieve, but even then, we protected them from much of it. This time, there was no way to cushion the blow. It was heartbreaking to witness the cruel reality that death is irreversible and completely incomprehensible when you are only eight years old (or 40 for that matter). What does a parent say?

Well, when your mother is me, she overloads you with information of religions of the world so you have a multitude of explanations for the afterlife, a virtual buffet of concepts to ponder. I want my children to form their own relationship with their God, however they want to embrace spirit. Faith isn’t something I want to impose; I want them to feel and trust it, bigger than rules and vows, deeper than words; what you know in your gut and head to be true. Love. Connection. Then they can explore.

Romeo’s death opened up some deep conversations for us. We talked about the fear of dying, got rid of some myths and opened our hearts to trust there is peace in the journey after you leave this place. We decided love lives forever: an energy that travels through infinite time.  Powerful.

I found a pretty towel and we wrapped Romeo up with care. His wee coffin was a cookie tin, sealed tightly with waterproof tape. We said a prayer, asking God to take care of Romeo on his journey, free of pain and worry, knowing he was loved. His casket was set in a safe place until his spring burial (not the freezer).

My daughter, devastated by the loss and subsequent sadness of her little brother, brought her hamster Juliet and offered to share custody of her pet, to fill the hole in her brother’s heart. This was a moment I won’t forget. Compassion. Empathy. Gratitude. A silent exchange between my two children took place before my eyes that was genuine and sincere. Years from now, that is the lesson I want them to remember.

There is something so magical in seeing your children growing up to be the kind of souls you’ve been trying to raise, to nurture (despite guaranteed therapy ahead), and that the sacrifices of the parenting work-life balance hasn’t totally messed them up. The kids are alright.

Farewell, Romeo. Adieu.



Kelly Waterhouse