About a year some neighbors of ours gave us their fish before they moved out of the neighborhood. This was our family's first pet (not counting the roly poly bug that we killed in record time) and I suggested that my daughter name it. So it was that "Fishy" became the fourth member of our family.
Fishy was a pretty crappy pet. Although he (it?) required minimal care, there's little joy to be wrangled out of a single fish. Sometimes you could get him to look at you in that open-and-closed-fishy-mouthy way, but that was about it for entertainment. Frankly, it looked like he wasn't even trying. So, I wasn't terribly disappointed when I found him floating on his side one morning. Although I wasn't looking forward to informing my daughter of his demise, I certainly wasn't going to miss his lackluster performance as a pet.
The wife and I briefly strategized and then I broke the bad news to my daughter. "Sweetie, I have bad news," I said to her, "Fishy was dead when I got up this morning."
Although I knew my daughter would be sad about this, I also knew she'd be intrigued by Fishy's death. She's very interested in death. I'm picturing a Goth phase in her future. One time her preschool took a field trip to a local church to see some recently discovered old murals. Unfortunately the church wasn't availble to the kids because a funeral was being held there. My wife explained that the kids couldn't go into the church because it was currently being used by some people who wanted to say goodbye to someone who had died. My daughter's eyes lit up and she said, "I want to say goodbye to someone who has died!" She was disappointed to hear that that wasn't going to happen.
So, after I told her about Fishy, she thought for a brief instant and then grimly said, "I want to see." We went downstairs and I showed Fishy to her. After contemplating for a moment my daughter brightened up and said, "But we can go to the pet store and buy a NEW fish!". The wife and I quickly agreed to this idea.
That day was already going to be a busy day. It was planned full of errands and activities that couldn't easily be rescheduled. So, we didn't want to spend a long time on a burial for the fish. We actually buried the damn roly poly bug in the backyard earlier in the year and the whole thing, ceremony and all, took a non-trivial amount of time.
I explained to my daughter that when a fish dies, traditionally one flushes it down the toilet rather than bury it in the ground. The wife quickly chimed in and added that this was done to send the fish back to the sea. It was a good story and my daughter soon bought into the plan.
Later in the day my wife took Fishy's bowl over to the toilet, with the daughter in tow. My wife had a ladle and was ready to scoop the fish into the toilet. "No, I want to do it!" my daughter explained. She took the ladle, scooped Fishy from his bowl, and unceremoniously plopped him into the toilet. She reached for the toilet handle but my wife stopped her and asked, "Would you like to say a few words before you flush him?"
My daughter thought for a second, then her face screwed up into the pre-bawling expression and she broke into tears. "I don't want to say goodbye!" she cried.
So, it was sad for a bit, but we all agreed not to eat fish for a while. That didn't last so long, as it turns out (kids love fish sticks), but sometimes it's the thought that counts.