Our guinea pigs died this November. On election day. Crazy, right? If it had been any other random day in November, I surely would not have remembered the date. People have laughed when I told them that the pigs went from happily sleeping and eating the day before to dying the next. On election day.
My two eight-year-old boys were at school. I called my husband at work when I discovered the guinea pigs quiet and lifeless in their cage. My husband came home from work, and we placed each guinea pig on a small dishcloth in an Amazon Prime box. Then, we waited for school to get out. I knew my boys would want to see their pets.
For as many times as I dreaded the task of cleaning out their cage, I completely broke down and sobbed as I cleaned their cage for the last time. It’s a strange phenomenon how something as seemingly small as a pet’s death can open you up to feel the weight, unfairness and pain of previous losses.
When guinea pigs die, it’s impossible to prepare your motherly heart for your children’s heartbroken responses. I walked my boys home from school. My husband and I then sat them down on the couch to tell them the sad news. I explained how I walked downstairs earlier in the day to check on them, and I didn’t hear them chattering. They both were lying down on their sides, not breathing. Dead.
The tears quickly escaped, flooding down their sweet faces. The utter feeling of helplessness revealed itself as my husband and I tightly held onto our boys. Their skinned-up knees have always camouflaged the most innocent and tender of hearts lying beneath. We watched them outwardly grieve, and we wished we could take all the hurt away. And leave only the best memories. But we couldn’t. Isn’t that the trickiest part of parenthood and life?
After the boys recovered a little bit from the news, they asked if they could see their dead guinea pigs. And pet them. And bury them. We have always spoken openly and honestly with our children about life and death therefore they have possessed a healthy curiosity in regards to both birth and death. We did a funeral service in our backyard where we shared some of the silliest and best memories of Spikes and Skiddy. Happy memories like driving to Wichita to rescue them, creating obstacle courses for them, giving them baths and “training” them with celery. The boys carved sticks for a headstone of sorts, and we planted a tree on top of the place where we buried the guinea pigs.
Oh! How pet ownership can be frustrating, time-consuming, downright exhausting and completely heartbreaking. Yet, it can also be an exciting adventure, joy-filled, fun, healing, memorable and a beautiful teacher of some of life’s most difficult lessons.
The good outweighs the grief which is why we will be adding another pet to our family soon!