My youngest son’s guinea pig Eeyore died yesterday.
He’d not been ill, as his cagemate Piglet had been for several weeks before he went to the Great Beyond a couple years ago, so his passing was a shock. He had been fine the night before, Nicholas said, and before he left for school in the morning he still seemed fine with no indication of what was to come. But Eeyore was also technically a “senior citizen” as guinea pigs go, who typically live to be only between 5 and 7 years old or so.
It’s really tough watching your kids deal with grief. Tears of mourning are so much different from those of resentment or anger, fueled by tantrums or the result of rebellious defiance. As a parent, you deal with your own sort of grief in observing what your kids experience when these difficult situations fall on us. While I felt sad that Eeyore was gone, my deeper sadness came from the clear fact that my son was feeling it much harder than I.
We (my husband, me and middle son Justin) all immediately rallied around Nicholas with hugs and love, and helped give Eeyore a dignified burial out in the back yard next to Piglet, under the huge Japanese maple tree now freshly endowed with green spring finery. A few good words were said, and we took turns reassuring him that it was old age, and not a lack of care, that had brought on Eeyore’s demise.
Normally, Nicholas’s demeanor doesn’t reveal much of his emotional side – he’s rarely willing to talk about how he’s feeling. But pets are clearly a soft spot with him, as is probably the case with most kids. Something about the responsibility of caring for another living thing, something about the inherent sadness with death, it’s hard to say what it is, or what it was, but yesterday Nicholas displayed a very tender side I’ve not seen very often. While his reaction was hard to see, it also made me proud that he seems to possess a deep sense of empathy for life.
It’s terribly easy to second-guess your parenting skills, and even easier to invite judgement from others, but I guess we’re definitely doing something right.