Recently, we lost a member of our family. Not a very large member: Ferdinand weighed about a pound and was only nine inches long. He was furry, a lovely wheat color, and he had only one mode of conversation: a loud chirp. But he was important to us and he was a family member. He was one of our two guinea pigs.
Ferd’s death was hard for me. Home by myself much of the day, filling my time with the solitary tasks of writing, cleaning, and cooking, Ferd kept me company. When I would walk down the hall toward his cage, he would chirp. He didn’t chirp for anyone else in the family. And while I know he associated me with food (I delivered the carrot peelings and cucumber ends), I liked to think that we had a special bond. (And, yes, it is the same bond I sometimes feel I have with my children…only they get carrot sticks and cucumber slices….I am the family purveyor of food.)
What made Ferd’s death especially hard however, was that one day he was happy and chirping and two days later he was inexplicably dead. We have no idea what killed him. We can’t lay any blame and we can’t modify something that we did to prevent a future guinea pig death. They just eventually die and it is out of our control.
When I was quite young, we had a dog die. It was terribly sad and, for years, whenever I would hear the song “Mr. Bojangles” (which thankfully wasn’t too often), I would cry when I heard the lyric “the dog up and died….he up and died.” Since that first experience with the loss of a pet, we’ve been through many others. And while each death is hard, we would never stop having pets.
The day after Ferd died, I was running with a friend. When I told her that Ferd had died, she immediately asked me if we wanted another guinea pig. It turns out that her son has allergies and on the day that our piggy died, their doctor told her to get rid of all of their pets, with the exception of their dog. They had been at a loss about what to do with their little pet. Suddenly, she had a solution.
So, while we can’t replace Ferd, we can welcome Patch. There is a poignant justice to this, I think. And some good lesson for us all, trite as they may be, about doors opening and closing, the boundless capabilities of our hearts and the simple fact that we are not in control. We just have to roll with it. Each day, good or bad, we just have to roll.
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