Baby, Come Back!



Yeah, I know it’s been awhile. I’ve been busy.


It’s not you, it’s me.


I just needed some time.


Time to ponder why I voluntarily agreed to get on a plane in two weeks when everyone knows I’m terrified to fly and I can’t sleep, concentrate, focus, talk normally, or write until I am back on the ground safely after my trip.


And that’s the way it is.


So I’ll try to shut up about that now.


Let’s talk about happierish things.




Shimmer meant a lot to this family. For me, she embodied graceful acceptance of a life that revolved around…well. It just revolved. For the girls, she replaced the dog or the cat or (per Toots: the rattlesnake) they’d originally wanted. Either way, we all knew we could count of seeing Shimmer floating in her own excrement every morning, eating and barfing, eating and barfing. It was like death and taxes. A sure damn thing.


Until it wasn’t.


I’m the one who found her. And I really almost cried. Poor, innocent Shimmer. Lonely. Always lonely. Circling a small bowl for days on end. No sand castle for sport. Just her and the poopy water. It was tragic. I kept my mouth shut for awhile, and just let her float on the bowl’s surface while I pondered what to do. For several minutes, I thought I’d get a decoy fish, and no one would be the wiser.


Then, I thought I’d just “bury” her, leave the bowl there, and feign surprise when the girls pointed out that she’d disappeared.


I’ve just been so frazzled and loopy lately that I didn’t think I had the mental energy to explain death to the kids. So for two days, I didn’t.


Then, in a fit of parental responsibility, I told Toots. Shimmer still floated in the bowl so I showed it to Toots as I explained, sort of, what had happened, leaving out the part where I’m pretty sure I killed her by feeding her too much.


Toots ran through the gamut of emotions before my eyes. Matter-of-fact acceptance, curiosity, grief, humor, mild sadness, mania, surprise, fright, wonder, garment-rending.


She just had to frame the situation, so proffered reason after reason for Shimmer’s expiration. Of course, there was the burglar-sneaking-in-and-murdering-Shimmer scenario I alluded to earlier, then there was flesh-eating disease, boredom, and old water.


When I offered to bury Shimmer in a lavish ceremony, Toots snorted and said, “Why? She’s just a fish.”


But she did want to know all about fish heaven and what Shimmer would do up there. Several minutes later, Toots burst into tears and wanted to know if Grandma Angela would take care of Shimmer in heaven. Then she wanted a sandwich (no mustard). A couple hours later, she sat quietly in a corner and sobbed.


So I don’t know. Toots inherited my popcorn emotional state, and I’m quite well versed in the way of the feelings roller coaster, but I’m kinda unsure as to how to address this.


I remembered how when I was in the 8th grade, a girl named Peggy Burns died of leukemia. She’d been a year older than I, and I didn’t know her well, but I just couldn’t shake my sadness. I still see her memorial card with Peggy’s graduation picture, and I often gazed at it, trying to understand that she wasn’t coming back.


I begged my Dad to take me to her wake. I’d never seen a dead body and it’s like my eyes needed to take it in to understand that the person was really gone. He quietly (for once) agreed and we got dressed up and went to the memorial. I truly don’t recall anything beyond that. I don’t even know if I ever got the guts to look into the coffin. But death haunted me after that. I wondered how it could snatch someone so beautiful, young, vibrant. It scared me, and I never got over it.


So, then my mom. I watched her soul leave her and saw with my own eyes that the body is just a body, and in a small way, that helped. But not really.


Anyway, Shimmer’s death hit me. I hate when anyone goes, even a fish. The extinguishing light gets me every time.


And when I watched Toots grapple with it, I knew my answers would possibly frame her idea of death and what it means. So, I said that Shimmer’s spirit lived elsewhere now, and her body had been a shell. Or something like that.


In the end, I threw Shimmer in the backyard. Not out of disrespect, or because I don’t think the dead should be memorialized and remembered, but because we all were drained and you can’t bury spirit.


At least that’s what I tell myself.



So see? I start a lighthearted post and it goes to death ponderings. I’m telling you, this about-to-get-on-a-plane thing is mucking up my head.


Pray for me.


19 Responses to “Baby, Come Back!”

  1. Kizz says:

    You know, you’re right, it’s just the leftover shell and the wakes and memorials and funerals and “celebrations of life” are just for the living. The thing is, I think we living deserve it. It sucks for us to be left behind and for me I like having the ceremony to have a chance to hang with other people who loved the person/cat/dog/fish/bird/etc. and to just sad and eat brownies and sing stupid hymns. I like having that button on the issue. I also like having the 9/11 memorial every year (for example, one of many I could use but it’s Sept so it’s what I’ve got) because that shit never goes away when someone dies so I think it’s OK to have a designated time to acknowledge that once a year. Nothing huge but I raise a glass to my grandfather every November 9th and I still miss him every year.

    And….I’ve got death on the brain so I’m rambling. Sorry!

  2. lol @ let’s talk about happierish things.

    now i completely understand why this was such a difficult thing for you – because of your first experience with death with the girl who died of leukemia. while i am somewhat fascinated with death and spooky things, i can’t remember my first experience with death. i mean, we had every pet imaginable when i was a kid – from rats and hamsters to bunnies, goats and dogs. all i remember about samantha (the first german shepherd i remember) ‘dying’ was her leaving one night during a thunderstorm… we lost a lot of dogs to getting hit by cars out on the highway or someplace far away from home, so i was never able to bear actual witness to a dead dog body.

    anyway, i’m sure toots’ first experience with death will not be too scarring. after all, shimmer was “just a fish.”


  3. deborah says:

    We all handle this in ways that seem best at the time, but Toots might need a ceremony after all. A memorial plant, e.g. in the garden that marks the spot where Shimmer is (supposed to be) buried. It’s what I’ve done and my sister just did when her dog was hit by a car. I think when you see that plant growing and flourishing, it sort of says that Shimmer’s spirit is too. At least that’s my take.

    Recently, I helped a distraught neighbor bury her cat, who unfortunately had not been found for two days and was, at that stage, maggot filled and half eaten and emitting noxious fumes. I brought over a huge box to put her in, which also meant digging a HUGE hole to bury her. Which the neighbor decided should be in her front yard. So there we were, in full sight of the street, digging a hole that looked just like a grave for a small human and putting a large box into it. I fully expected people to call 911. But in the end, we placed a beautiful stone marker on it and when I see it now, I remember the sweet little black kitty, not all the yucky stuff.

  4. Karen says:

    The counterpoint:

    I’m driving with my daughter (she’s 16) this morning. We were in the car for about an hour altogether. Near the end of the drive she very casually said, “That’s, like, the tenth dead thing I’ve seen today.” Then she went back to scanning radio stations.

  5. ilinap says:

    Poor Shimmer and Poor You. We had to explain our cat Capote being put to sleep. We never actually broached the details, simply said he died. Then my father in law died, and we braced ourselves for heavy discussions. Bird just asked if Grandpa would take care of Capote and pet him in heaven. Then he asked if Grandpa needed his wheelchair in heaven. Kids are poignant.

  6. You are wired for to feel whatever you may feel quite profoundly. While that sometimes means loss and fear come to you in seemingly great proportions in your life, so too does that make your capacity for love and joy that much deeper too.

    You spoke to Toots from your heart. Now just let Toots be, just be, with her emotions.

    As for the plane: It is okay to be afraid. Now just let Deb be, just be, with her fear.

  7. I’m sorry for the heaviness lately – Shimmer, fear, the flight to NY. I really don’t think you’re as atypical as you think you are. Truly.

    I’m going to NYC this Friday for the weekend – I’m not afraid, so think of it as I’m blazing a trail for you. (I do always pray that angels are around the plane, or that the hand of God is carrying it – literally.)

  8. we_be_toys says:

    I kind of like the burglar-through-th-wondow scenario, not disrespecting Shimmer, of course, but it seems a vaguely glamorous end for a fish, doesn’t it?

    My best friend totally flips out about airplanes and has to take Xanax in order not to frighten the others while onboard. I’m more of a fan of deep breathing, but admittedly,flying isn’t my phobia. Put me in an MRI machine now, and I’ll “cry like a little girl with a skinned knee”.

    I think I was trying to say, “I hear you, I feel for you, I validate your fear – somehow all that other stuff came out instead!

  9. I’d definitely consider taking the Xanax route if you’re going to be uptight until the plan takes off. Sometimes it truly is “better living through chemistry.”

  10. Tricia says:

    You’re much braver than you give yourself credit for. I can’t figure out how to explain death and when our son was two and a half, our dog died. I completely coped out and said Zach went for a really, really long walk. Just the other day we drove past a beautiful building. My son asked what the building was and I off-handedly said it was a church. It was a funeral home, but I didn’t want to explain. Yes, I need some of your bravery.

  11. Oh how sad. We had a tankful of fish way before we had kids. They started dying one by one. There was some sickness, or bad water, or something, that was killing those fish. My husband insisted they were fine. I knew they weren’t. And they died. one by one. It was horrible. I cried. I told him we weren’t ready for kids yet.

    Now when our kids are sick he gives me a hard time about taking them to the doctor or giving them medicine.

    I’m pretty sure we’ll never have fish again. They are too easy to ignore, and too easy to screw up.

  12. I’m sorry about your Shimmer, and the hard things we have to do with our kids. I was feeling pretty broken up about the TWO plecostomuses (plecostomi?) that died in his aquarium, and couldn’t help but wonder how he was processing everything.

    And of course this all comes up when we have to face something that threatens our mortality (which is technically anytime we walk out our front door).

    I will certainly pray for you. Peace.

  13. Da Goddess says:

    After losing my Aunt Joan to cancer and then inheriting her family’s gerbils, I learned a lot about death very quickly. (Gerbilism was standard practice amongst the denizens of this little community)

    Shortly thereafter, it was Pappy who left us. And I didn’t like it. Not one bit.

    I vacillated between understanding and denial for a few years. Sometimes I still do.

    I feel for you, Toots, and the whole family.

    As for that trip, I wish I could go and hold your hand. Cuz I would.

    Missed you at Adams Avenue, but totally get the tired kid thing. LD had his “moment” there. What fun! Thankfully, he got over it.

    Many hugs, Deb.

  14. I really enjoyed reading your post. Death is a puzzling thing. I’ve lost a few close friends and totally understand. Sorry about losing your fish. It is hard to lose anyone close to you even a pet.

    Don’t worry so much about getting on a plane. You are more likely to get in a car accident than a plane crash. Unless it is the heights that is freaking you out. If so, then don’t sit in a window seat. You’ll be just fine. I’ll be praying for you!

  15. tinsenpup says:

    I miss you. Hurry back when you’re done. Sorry about Shimmer. Darn little fish, making us all think.

  16. bejewell says:

    Sorry for your loss. Like you, I hate to see them go. I try to save spiders or ants when I find them in the house. (But not cockroaches. Those, I just run away from while screaming.) We’ve done the math and realize that at least one of our menagerie is likely to die by the time the Bean is 4 or 5. That’s a lot for a 4 or 5 year old to swallow, and I’m already dreading the experience.

    On the plane thing – I may have told you this before, but I always calm myself down with the thought that my life is not nearly interesting enough for me to die in a fiery plane crash. I’m almost certain to go out with something boring like heart disease. Somehow, that makes me feel better.

  17. Steph says:

    Re: the plane thing. You’ll be okay. You will. You can do this!

  18. I am really sorry to hear about Shimmer. It is hard enough to deal with death and having to explain it to children must be difficult.

  19. mommypie says:

    I’m sorry about Shimmer. :( One of the reason’s I resisted getting a pet for sooo long is that I don’t do well with the inevitable end. I’m a coward. So I understand.

    We’ve been talking about death the past few days too. I think I freaked MP out a bit with trying to explain the spirit/ghost thing. (She asked, so I couldn’t avoid it.) Have you even tackled that??

    You’ll do great on your flight — I’d tell you to stop stressing but I know, because you’re like me, that’s pointless. ;)

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