We knew that Pig was dying for about three months before we made that hard choice to put him down. Our 18-pound rabbit had been the most excellent pet and was loved dearly by his human younger siblings. Because Pig's tumor was visible, it was easy to talk to the kids about the cancer and prepare them for his death. Our eldest knew it was coming, understood and handled it with grace.
After I made the call to the vet's office for Pig's final visit the next week, I took my son to the local aquarium store. We had previously bought all the supplies for the tank, but our plans for an underwater kingdom got derailed after I forgot to wash the sand and turned all the water pitch-black. Four months and approximately 5 billion water changes later, the water was clear, and we were ready for fish.
My son and I spent over an hour painstakingly selecting each of the six perfect fish.
A friend asked whether I thought getting "fish of all things" was a good idea. Why wouldn't it be? Giving my son some life to look at might lessen the pain of losing a loved one. I responded, "Of course. I got my fish Mikey when I was his age, and he was my best friend for five years."
How come no one told me goldfish don't typically live that long?!
One day. They lived one day!
You know what doesn't help a grieving child? Six painstakingly selected dead fish.
I ran back to the aquarium store with a water sample, hoping it was some weird anomaly. Perhaps the people there had accidentally sold me spontaneously combusting fish and next time they would sell me live-for-a-decade fish. When they tested the pH levels of my sample, the nitrates or the ammonia or the Crystal Pepsi or whatever was in my water was off the charts. I would have to wait another two weeks if I didn't want another massacre.
While we waited, Pig was put to sleep. He was buried in the fairy garden in our front yard. The timing had not worked in our favor.
When the two weeks had passed, I took my son back to the aquarium store with another water sample. The water was tested and looked good. I made the workers swear up and down that my fish would live, and they promised they would. The workers also showed my kid a few other cool pets he could have in the aquarium — frogs, shrimp, turtles. We settled on a miniature blue lobster that was in the same tank as the bulk of the fish he selected.
Home in their new tank, the fish and lobster energetically got familiar with the new digs. But the next day, there was one fewer fish.
I tried to look on the positive side. Seeing as we now had a scavenger in the mini lobster, there was no fish body for me to scoop out. The following day, there were three fewer fish.
I was cursing at the aquarium place. Why did they tell me my water was fine? It's another gill genocide. A fish finale.
It wasn't until the tank only had a single fish left that I finally saw it. The blue lobster attacked. My scavenger was in fact a murderer.
On the way home from the aquarium, the lobster had pinched the plastic bag he was being transported in, and all the water had flooded out, soaking my seat. I should have known he was trouble then.
Horrified that my son had just lost his furry best friend and now his perfectly picked-out school of fish for the second time, I asked him how he was coping with the rather traumatizing past three weeks. Do you have any questions on life and death?
"Yeah," he said. "Can we name the lobster Rabbit?"
"Uh, sure. Why?" I asked.
"After Pig," he said. "And when the lobster dies, we should get a lizard and name it Lobster. And when the lizard dies, we should get a dog and name it Lizard. And when the dog dies, we can get a pig and name it Dog. And when the pig dies, we can get a rabbit again and name him Pig 2."
I think he's getting this whole life and death thing just fine. Which is lucky, because I'm not getting any more fish.
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book "Stop Farting in the Pyramids," available at http://www.creators.com/books/stop-farting-in-the-pyramids. Like Katiedid Langrock on Facebook, at http://www.facebook.com/katiedidhumor. To find out more about her and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.