Zombie HamsterMy daughter, Ariel, woke on Father’s Day morning to find her hamster dead beneath the exercise wheel. Kendra had somehow caught her leg and became pinned -- that alone shouldn’t have caused death, but my husband believes she may have had a heart attack while attempting to free herself. Lar had a heck of a time plucking her stiff little body from the Wheel of Death, a gruesome time, so it stands to reason Kendra‘s tiny heart just couldn‘t take the stress.
Kendra was all of two years old, barely middle age, and as is usual when hamsters we love leave us much too soon, there are regrets, there are questions. We wish we’d spent more time playing with them, we ask ourselves if we’d been the best companions we could have, we lament our busy schedules and self-absorbed interests and hate ourselves for not paying more attention, for not putting an extra carrot in the food dish or taking our friends out into the morning sun for a nibble of dewy grass. We mourn the loss of scratchy little feet on our forearms, tickly pink noses against our cheeks. We cry and sympathize over our loved ones’ lonely final journeys, and we swallow cold lumps of guilt as we gaze at the empty cages, the toys left in the corner, the sunflower seeds tucked into secret burrows. The nests still bear the imprint of our dear friends’ furry forms.
We buried Kendra behind the playset, three of my children in attendance, and as the last handful of dirt was thrown, the wild flowers scattered atop her grave, my boy wept like never before, just great, wrenching sobs that tore my heart in half, brought tears to my own eyes. “Ohhhh, Kendra,” he wailed. “Kendra, my poor buddy!”
My poor buddy.
I don’t believe I’ve ever heard such a sweet declaration of empathy.
Ariel whispered, “Goodbye, Kendra,” wiped the one silent tear that stubbornly refused to stay put despite her tightly closed eyes, then ran to her room to grieve privately. Sarah, my middle girl, openly cried, unashamed, and held onto her dad, while I, my throat knotted, stroked Brandon’s hair and gently steered him toward the house. By now he was hiccupping, he was crying so hard, his face bright red, his hands shaking. It was time to break out the pop and candy.
Delighted, even if for a second, with the lollipops and Gummy Worms I offered, my boy still wept, yet managed to stop long enough to ask me this: “Will Kendra come back, Mommy?”
“No, honey. Kendra’s in heaven with the angels now.”
“You mean, like with your daddy?”
“She may be, yes.”
“Well, if they can walk to heaven, then why can’t they walk back here?”
“Because their spirits are in heaven, not their bodies.”
“But how come they don’t have their bodies?”
“Our bodies stop working when we die, but our spirits, the inside part of our bodies, live on.”
“Are spirits full of blood?”
“But I thought there was blood inside our bodies.”
“Well, yes, there is, honey. Spirits are what make us who we are. Bodies are like boxes, they hold our spirits until it’s time for us to go to heaven. Blood makes our bodies work. Kendra’s body stopped working, like when the batteries die in a toy.”
“I think we should buy some new batteries for Kendra, then. I really think we should get her out of the ground now.”
By this time, my son had calmed down considerably, but now I was getting frazzled, not to mention a bit annoyed. Thankfully, Sarah, who’d been listening to the exchange, came to the rescue. “Brandon,” she said, “Kendra can’t come out of the ground because then she would be a zombie, and zombies eat people.”
I gave her a stern look and told her to go play.
My son chewed thoughtfully on a Gummy Worm for a moment, then said, “Mommy? I really, really think we should put a big rock on top of Kendra.”
R.I.P., Kendra (Fat Butt) Young, 2004-2006