Bad at Sharing Death News

As a follow-up to my post two days ago, Things Not to do on a Long Drive with Children, I’d like to share more of the story and the long drive home. The other part of the story is what happened to my daughter.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you have probably encountered the references to her many animal friends. Many years ago, we only had a few guinea pigs and not the full downstairs abundance of chinchillas, guinea pig, and a rabbit like now.

We left our dear pets in the care of our neighbor for the week. They had a key, we left clear instructions, and maintenance was simple food, water, and hay duties. What we failed to mention was that the oldest guinea pig was ill.

Christmas morning the family gathered at the in-law’s house for presents. I received a call from the neighbor (500 miles away) that one of the guinea pigs was dead. I quickly turned my face away from the group to obscure my reaction and moved to another room for privacy. After taking a few moments to reassure the distressed neighbor that it wasn’t their fault, they asked me what I wanted to do with the body.

My initial thought was for them to simply toss it in the trash can. The animal weighed less than one pound and was definitely bio-degradable. That must be the right answer. The neighbor was more sensitive to my daughter’s potential reaction and suggested we might want to have a burial ceremony upon our return. Now it was my turn to be stunned. A ceremony? For an oversized rodent? Well, my daughter was sentimental. I agreed and the neighbor told me they would wrap the body in paper and put it in the garage freezer.

We ended the call and I motioned my wife to quietly join me in the corner. In whispered tones I rapidly conveyed the information (deleting my trash suggestion part of the conversation). We agreed not to tell our daughter the news this Christmas morning and would hold off until our vacation visit was over in a few days.

Fast forward to the youngest son vomiting on the Saw Mill Parkway (see the other post above!).

After changing some clothes and wiping down the car surfaces, we resumed our drive. 9 more hours until we were home. We settled in and merged onto the New Jersey Turnpike without incident. It was at this time my wife decided to break the news to our daughter.

I was dumbfounded. Why now? I expected my daughter to burst into tears and cry for hours. My plan was for that to happen at home where we could give and receive space to one another. The plan in my mind was certainly NOT to break the news in the cramped confines of the car with 8.5 hours driving time left before we could get away from the tears and moaning!

My daughter’s crying stamina was truly impressive. She lasted the entire trip with an unending set of moans, tears, snotty nose, coupled with bursts of all out bawling just to mix it up. Upon reaching home, she promptly went upstairs to her room and continued for a few more hours. The difference was she added the frozen guinea pig to her bedspread and stroked it gently as the frost left its fur.

The noisy grieving period continued for a few days. After that, it settled into a general sadness that she carried for a few more weeks.

But hey, at least Christmas Day wasn’t ruined.

Are you good at what you do? What would you like to be better at?

4 thoughts on “Bad at Sharing Death News

  1. I’m sorry to hear that your daughter had to go through that. Death, of anything, can be extremly difficult, especially for a child. I hope she’s doing better now.

    • Thank you. The incident occurred more than 15 years ago. She has recovered and buried many more furry pets over the years. Each with their own sets of tears.

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