How not to handle the death of your child's pet:
Yesterday morning I woke to find my daughter's beta fish floating sideways in his bowl. I knew that S would be heartbroken (she's sensitive). Not wanting to face it alone, I ran to wake up K, who was sleeping late. I swear, I got no pleasure from this early awakening. Even though I'd been up for three hours already.
So K scooped the sort of icky fish onto a paper towel for presentation and rinsed the bowl while I got ready to prep S. We were both giggling, a little, because we were nervous about her reaction, and also feeling silly for being so serious about a fish.
I went to the living room, where S was obliviously watching cartoons. "I have some sad news," I began.
She looked away from the TV with effort.
"Mr. Furious," I said, holding up the newly-cleaned and empty bowl.
She looked at me, raising her eyebrows as she understood. Then she wrinkled them. I thought that maybe she wasn't going to become hysterical. She was silent.
"It's OK if you're not really sad," I said. "It's hard to get close to a fish."
At that, S burst into full-on wail mode. On cue, K came into the room with the diminished-looking fish all limp on the paper towel.
"Do you want to see him?"
"NO!" she wailed, horrified. I rubbed her back and tried to be comforting. I definitely didn't look at K, knowing that if I did we would both descend into insensitive laughter that would probably scar my daughter for life. I could hear her future therapy: "And then my mom and her partner laughed. They laughed because Mr. Furious was dead! And I knew then that she'd never really loved me."
Eventually S tentatively touched the deceased fish. I reminded her to wash her hands. Then we lit a candle and put it on the shelf where Mr. Furious' bowl had been, and burned some sage over his limp little body.
When she realized where we were going to dispose of the body, she cried some more, saying that at school they found out that flushing makes fish bodies explode. I gently pointed out that it didn't matter too much because he was already dead. Contrary to my belief at the time, I now think that there is no gentle way to point this out. She cried some more. Then she went back to the TV.
K and I dropped Mr. Furious into the toilet. K wanted to take a picture of him in the bowl, but I urged restraint, because if S ever found that picture she really would be traumatized for life. Mr. Furious was flushed and gone, and S remained weepy all day.
RIP, Mr. Furious. You were loved.