A Boy and His Fish

A Boy and His Fish



Tino died.

My boy cried hard from the gut, curled in a ball in my lap, tears streaming velvet cheeks. When the words finally came, he squeaked out, “I just wish I could have been there with him.”

He just wanted to be there with him.

The 8-year-old goldfish entered this boy’s life when he was just a one-year-old toddler perched on a stool tracing the fish’s movement on the glass with his tiny finger. The fish grew and grew alongside the boy.

By the glow of the light from Tino’s tank, sitting on the dresser next to his bed, the boy worked through most of his life’s lessons. The fish swam steadily through the sleep battles of toddlerhood, the night terrors of the sensory years, bad dreams, heavy losses and hard goodbyes. Impressing visitors with his enormity (we’re talking mega avocado with fins – huge), he was there for the celebrations, the sleepovers, the sillies and sat bedside while downloading a day’s events together, slipping into the final calm moments before sleep.

“Mama, I can’t sleep.”

“Roll over and watch Tino, Babe. Let him swim you there.”

The trickling water passing through the filter and the gliding pattern of that big sparkling fish moving through the water smoothed the edges off of the things that hurt most.

My guts clenched in anticipation of sharing this news with a heart I knew would crack wide open. I didn’t want to share this news. I didn’t want to say goodbye. To anyone or anything else. While the kids were at school, I dug a hole in partially frozen ground in anticipation of a fishy funeral, a bit pissed off. We’ve weathered what feels like a relentless string of transitions and changes. I wanted a break. I longed for the illusive lull between waves. The act of shoveling pushed this poison from my pores and I paused to breathe again. Keep moving forward…

I moved through the day thinking about loss – grief, free of qualification or criteria or rank validating its presence or impact. I thought about the idea that someone, something touched your life in a way that brought joy or growth or purpose and now they are missing.

I revisit the process of moving through grief, on from the present comfort of the very thing that you let IN with all your being, one that became a part of your identity or construct. That a fish, a dog, a person – they’re all Life. There was an invitation to give yourself to someone and you did. You were rewarded by love in return.

The fish was the receiver of the love that boy practiced giving other beings. I am imprinted by the beautiful ways in which he instinctually wanted to honor that life.

Intent upon showing these babes life – real life full of the colorful bursts and tattered scraps – and to absorb our experiences with all of our senses, I invited them to engage with Tino one last time. We laid his big body on a scrap of soft cloth that my little guy insisted upon cutting from one of his blankets. We moved his delicate, articulated fins, marveling their architechture, and touched his metallic scales before wrapping him up for rest in a small box. Little Lady wrote a sweet note that we tucked inside and my guy inscribed the top with his goodbye.

We decided we loved him well. And he loved us right back. His time in this body has been well served. He’s got other business to handle now and the mystery of exactly what that is keeps us thinking, growing.

Tino will rest under the climbing tree that these two babes grew up in. Taking a new shape each year, weathering storms, supporting climbing bodies and sheltering new pets, the tree fosters life. And death is a part of life. Tears and a fresh coat of snow seal our goodbye.

Sweet boy, I can’t take this feeling away. I wouldn’t even if I could. The beautiful privilege to have loved so greatly that such a loss changes you will expand your capacity to love, to honor. Never avoid loving at the risk of loss.

I can only offer you your favorite tacos, a shoulder to catch your tears and our tandem breath in tight embrace. We have been through much together. Our conversations have both challenged and healed me. I hope I’ve provided you the same.

I write to process. I write to remember. I write for village. I write so that one day, my children may know where they’re from. If words move you, share them…

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