In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT, I can’t help but reflect on a Toastmasters speech I wrote earlier this year. Although nothing I can say can bring those people back, maybe I can bring a little solace by sharing an inspirational speech about a 10 year old, a goldfish, and the small steps needed to start to move forward. My hope is that this can provide something, even a little strength, to carry on.
YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGR3qNvXpeA
Funeral for a Friend
A cardboard matchbox casket placed between two candles sat on a simply decorated table with the hand written note, “Loving Fish, Loving Friend.” You see, Clide, spelled with a “I”, died.
To quote the English poet Gayles Brandreth, “Oh wet pet,” is how my wife started the celebration of Clide’s life. My twelve-year-old daughter Erin said, “I didn’t like the way Clide ate slowly…but I loved the joy he gave Tatum,” followed by a friend, “I never met Clide, but whenever I was around Tatum, I could tell she really loved him and he loved her.”
This is the story of how my 10 year old daughter Tatum, made the three-week life of a two inch fish memorable. Grief often makes us nervous and uncomfortable. Tatum reminds us about the resilience of children and their ability to teach us that sometimes strength and clarity comes from our unique ways of dealing with death on our own terms.
Tatum hatched a plan in the summer. She strategically placed a crayon drawing of a goldfish in a glass bowl. The picture screamed, “I want one.” No words needed. It almost worked. The parental concerns of a short-life span and inevitable disappointment had us remain steadfast. Next came the one word Christmas wish list, “Goldfish.” Santa surprised us all when he left a bubbling tank with a perky little orange and white fish. The simple joy of a little girl’s smiling face as she sprinted down the stairs past a mountain of presents to get her first glimpse of Clide showed us how wrong we were.
She routinely fed the fish and truly bonded with her fat and happy swimming friend. Then, a change- a few white specks. No big deal, they looked like bubbles- a day later- a turn for the worse as he lay on the tank floor with very little movement.
A recovery was unlikely. The helplessness sank in as a pleading Tatum pulled her mattress off her bed and put it next to the tank. While Clide struggled, there were desperate cries for help through the night, “Please don’t let him die…I love him too much.” You can’t dismiss the grief of a child, but you can watch their spirit and adaptability in amazement.
The expert diagnosis was quick and clear- not the typical over-feeding of the goldfish. No, it was worse. He was cleaned to death.
Tatum took it in stride and set in motion a celebration of life for the ages when she handed out funeral invitations. It read, “If you’re able to attend, please prepare a speech to share.” My speech writing skills have never been more tested. Tatum said he was to be buried in the yard. Apparently, flushing was not an option. My first thought was how was I going to dig a hole in the ground in Maine in January?
While “Sad Fish Song” played in the background, a group of family and friends gathered. There was some older sister snickers, but the speech themes were constant–the joy Clide brought to Tatum. After a rousing rendition of Amazing Clide, where the group had to be reminded that it was a funeral, not a concert- my vulnerable youngest daughter delivered the eulogy.
I ran downstairs on Christmas day, I wanted to shout hip-hip hooray, Because before me I got a bright little fish, I’d train him, feed him, and have but one wish, That he loved me as much as I loved him, And how I loved to watch him swim, I remembered the day his scales turned white, It really was an awful sight, He was so still, His mouth turned black, It hurt me so much, Just to think back, The next day I ran home to check on him, That dreadful sight destroyed my grin, All I wanted to do was hold his fin, At his last breath, my heart cried, For my dear beloved Clide had died
Our reluctance towards pet ownership came to fruition. Yet, in a poignant, profound, and beautiful way, Tatum dealt with loss and mortality through laughter, tears, and creativity. We all have resilience in us. Remember Tatum and release your inner child in your own moments of grief and know that you will get through it in time, on your terms.
With plastic champagne flutes filled with sparkling cider, a final salute was made to the departed as we munched on Gold Fish crackers.
A new day, a new spirit –dealing with death her way. A small container of Clide’s water sat on the window sill as Tatum happily talked with her new fish “Gil.”