Our little friend Harry died. I should tell you now that he’s a hamster, but also that we loved him.
Before I had children, I dismissed little moments like a rodent’s funeral as perhaps sickening frivolity amongst a child-centered world who had most decidedly lost its priorities. A world with too much time on its hands. A world with misplaced priorities who had forgotten about the starving children in Ethiopia. And yet somehow over time, this has become my world. It’s the same world that now encompasses things like gym strip that smells comfortingly of our favorite fabric softener and things like why it’s nice to have a baked, trans-fat-free muffin in your lunch even despite the fact that it’s cheaper and easier to buy one from the store. These things are moments and blips of a life that feels safe and warm and good. When you’re warm in the middle of them, you don’t even care anymore that the moments are extraneous and you find yourself forgetting sometimes about poverty in Madagascar, important though it is.
Our hamster was a senior senior citizen. Google tells us that these little guys generally have a lifespan of about 18 months, but Harry lived with us for almost three years. He was a cute Chub-eroo who very nearly collapsed from the sheer joy of it when Anabel would blow him dry after a bath. He had birthday parties even, replete with cake.
He was always convinced that we were on the very verge of deciding to starve him, and so would frantically gorge when Anabel would refill his foodbowl. Merely gorging, though, wasn’t enough to satisfy him, and he was never more pleased than when his tummy was distended with food and so were his cheeks. You can see for yourself how he loved to stuff his little rodent cheeks:
JoyBoy was out of town when Harry left the earthly ranks of our family. Jude found our little friend huddled up inside the little plastic igloo he liked to sleep in. He was quiet and still. Even though we all knew the loss of him was imminent and even overdue, sadness permeated our hearts. Even mine, it should be confessed. Mothers are supposed to be brave and so I steeled myself to the task of picking up his cold little body. I paused as I did so because somehow it seemed daunting, this task. Seeing this, my beloved Jude took the cloth from my hand and gently picked Harry up, cradling him carefully in his palms. As he transferred Harry’s lifeless body to the tissue box he had at the ready he said, Mom, when Dad’s gone, I’m the man and I’m the one who’s supposed to do jobs like this. It was hard to know which to focus on just then: the shame I felt for my own parental lapse or the immense and glistening pride I felt for my dear, brave boy.
We decided not to tell Oliver as he didn’t yet know and it was bedtime. He, at least, should be spared sad Harry dreams, we agreed. Anabel was at a sleepover still and so it was just Jude and Lucy who peppered me with questions like whether Harry would someday be joining us in Heaven and a thousand others like it. I deplored the New York business trip that kept my Theology majoring husband away from us just now and answered them all – every one of them – as best I could and then I tucked them into bed. Harry whiled the time away coldly in the garage as the rest of us slept.
The bright December morning came and with it brought feverish plans for an elaborate funeral. Jude trudged out on a reconaissance mission to find the perfect spot. He found just the one behind our house in the forest and began to dig deep into the ground. He dug and he dug and I watched him from the window and thought of what a beautiful boy he’s grown up to be. Soon he hit clay, but he didn’t stop digging because he knew what the coyotes would do with our little Harry if they were able to get at him.
Anabel came home and received the news of her little pet’s death with a quiet dignity. We all bundled up like puffy, colorful, bewildered snowmen and looked ridiculous and filed out sadly to the back yard. Jude handed me a paper to read from which contained two Bible verses he had looked up and that reflected meaningfully upon death. One of them was John 13:7 which said, Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” I read and we held hands and we prayed. Without naming names, I will say that when I looked around me, tears flowed freely from various eyes. They were lovely eyes. I was the person who felt able to pray and when I had finished, I asked if anyone else wished to talk to our God about our loss. Little Oliver put up his hand. With a stab of insight belying his eight years, he said, Dear God – Thank you that this isn’t the end of Harry, but that it’s his real beginning. I felt humbled to hear him say it, the flash of wisdom was so clear and galvanizing. The only one of us to rival him in the clarity of his understanding was JoyBoy when he texted in response to Jude’s text relaying the sad news. He wrote: I’m sorry 4 u. We’ll see him in Narnia with Reepicheep someday. My Theology major really knows how to cut to the heart of the matter.