Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Zombie Hamster

My 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?”

“No.”

“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

25 Comments:

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Granny said...

I'm sorry about your hamster. They're nice little pets.

We've done the pet funeral several times.

The girls think there is a kitty heaven with lots of grass to run in, all their kitty buddies and relatives and best of all no dogs. They have their own as I'm sure do hamsters.

Kind people are allowed to visit them.

I don't care about the accuracy of my theology. They can decide that on their own when they're older.

Just saw you popup at the bottom of the screen.

 
At 12:29 PM, Blogger Granny said...

Oops - that was the other Lori. I forgot there were two.

 
At 1:12 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

I had hamsters as a child and, boy, they are educational.

First, they die quickly (the wheel of death claimed at least two of mine--including one who had her neck severed while her "daughter" ran on the wheel with "mommy" trapped under it). Second, they are escape artists. Third, if you have cats, it quickly demonstrates the predator-prey relationship. And fourth, I believe that male hamster testes are the largest in proportion to overall body size of any mammal.

I'm sorry about Kendra, but I think you handled it well.

 
At 2:48 PM, Blogger leenie71689 said...

I like your explanation f bodies and souls....boxes and batteries...and I love how Brand wats to put a rock on Kendra's grave...clever kid. May Kendra rest in peace. XXOO

 
At 3:13 PM, Blogger Redneck Nerdboy! said...

My sympathies. I will go through the same thing when Bear, our teddybear hamster passes soon.

 
At 3:54 PM, Blogger windreader said...

I was not allowed any kind of pet that I could have meaningful interaction with until I was in High School.  I had fish, but you can't really play with them.  and their deaths were honored with a flush.

in High School I brought home a hamster.  after my mother stopped screaming I was allowed to keep it.  but I had to leave it at home when I went off to college.

poor Nutmeg died sometime my freshman year, at the age of 3.  I am not sure of the circumstances, and know that my family was not necessarily above actively causing the demise.  I was never told about it and never allowed to mourn.  one break I came home to find the glass hamster tank gone. 

it sounds like you are doing a great job of allowing your kids to grapple with that great inevitability. although I do not envy you when the little man realizes that he himself is doomed to that fate as well. that is a very hard gestalt to grapple with.

 
At 1:14 AM, Blogger Anonymous Law Student said...

You are a very good writer. I'm glad I randomly stumbled on this blog.

It made me think of my old Dog Koyuk. What a great dog. It was one of the hardest days of my childhood when Koyuk passed away. She was like the Alaskan Lassie.

 
At 5:47 AM, Blogger Alice said...

Oh God, I don't know whether to cry and share in your grief, or laugh at your children's way of thinking...

In any case, I'm really sorry you had to go through that. I think the whole family has handled it really well, and you can tell your kids from me, a girl who did work experience with a vicar, that Kendra is indeed in heaven, and safe, and happy.

Hugs xxx

 
At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Betti said...

R.I.P. fuzzy buddy! My condolances to your children.

Even losing tiny pets is hard. One of my cats mourned the death of "his" pet mouse for days. He kept wailing and pawing at the window while staring at the rock garden where she was buried - at the time, we didn't know he was watching us, we would have kept him away from the window otherwise. Getting him a new mouse didn't help as much as I hoped it would, and unfortunately the new mouse took no interest in the cats.
(They now have a 13lb dog to chase and harass so they're doing fine).

 
At 11:13 PM, Blogger e-blackadder said...

Our mouse croaked a week ago, and there is nothing that makes you feel sillier than being an adult at a rodent funeral. Thank god my kids have a fairly laid-back attitude towards our smaller pets sailing for the great beyond.

Amazing how attached we get to the little buggers tho.

 
At 11:46 AM, Blogger Alexis said...

R.I.P Kendra. x x x

 
At 4:45 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

I love your stories Ms. Lori. your kids sound like a kick, and so smart.
Sorry about the hamster. that part of your post brought the tears to my eyes. whew!

 
At 3:20 AM, Anonymous aphid said...

I feel terrible for you. We have six cats and they're like family to us (one of them is curled up in my lap right now, and even though she is a tremendous asshole I love her). The one consolation is that most animals don't intellectualize death like we do (just us and elephants, as far as I know), so it's not as psychologically terrifying as it is when we see it coming. One of our cats is nearing the end of his life, and we think he's happy and cares little about his impending death. It's important to remember that it's not silly at all to feel sad when a pet dies; hell, their lives aren't worth any less than ours.

 
At 12:54 PM, Blogger Deek Deekster said...

Hamsters actually don't live much beyond 2 years.. so it was in LATE middle age... still, my favourite pet was mine own beauty of nibble, a curtain-climbing genius, unafraid of heights, who escaped for days at a time and had the nouse to return when the neighbour's cat was stalking him...

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger Professor said...

I love the touching and funny musings of this post.

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger Ms. Lori said...

Thank you, everyone, for your kind comments. Yet more proof that hamster lovers are the cream of humanity.

 
At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have had to bury 2 of them now(Hamsters) although 1 is currently frozen in the freezer to travel to our new home. Hamsters have a short life span. My Oldest(almost 12) WAS INCONSOLABLE when Fluffy died. that hamster was everywhere with him

 
At 4:49 AM, Blogger Alexis said...

What happened to your 'free flow of thought' post!!! It was awesome!!!! x x x x x

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger Alena said...

I was really sad and touched reading that, at least until the last line.. and then I laughed out loud..

The comments here so far have made me a bit sneefy, though, and I have to say I agree with pretty much everything said. It sounds like your kids are a total kick (to borrow a phrase) and definitely smart.. plus, I think you seem like an awesome parent. Not only are you pretty laid-back, you take the time to explain concepts to your kids in a way they'll (maybe) understand. I think this is really important and makes for better adjusted kids, if they can at least somewhat understand how the world works.

My condolences about Kendra.. hopefully you won't need that big rock, though.

 
At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Sara said...

When taking "Health for Elementary Teachers", my professor told the story of one teacher, who wanted to teach her students about grief. It's a popular idea that children learn how to grieve by experiencing "small" deaths in childhood, like carnival goldfish, or hamsters, or the like. So, hearing about this small death theory, the teacher decided that each year she would incorporate one small death in her first grade class. Unfortunately, these things are not on a timetable, so she would need something more predictable. So, each year, on a cool spring evening, she would pack her things in her little canvas bag. She would clean up the students desks. She would write down notes about the next day in her desk planner. And then she would calmly pour a capful of bleach into the classroom fish tank, sealing the fate of yet another aquatic companion.

 
At 3:08 PM, Blogger Ms. Lori said...

Alexis, see new post. I'm a big tool.

Alena, thank you! Your comments made me smile, as well as feel like I'm doing a sorta-kinda good job (today is one of those "trying" days). Now, about this "Sneefy" thing...WTF?! ;-)

Sara, I am both repulsed and delighted by that story. Thank you!

 
At 3:04 PM, Blogger Alena said...

Welcome.. I think you have some precocious kids, which, at least in my mind, means you'll have some pretty cool, intelligent adults. I know from being a precocious kid (and having friends that were, also) that it can be trying, but I'd say all of us turned out to be independent thinkers who know their own minds, and that's pretty damn cool in my opinion. :) Plus, I have to say that your kids say and do some of the funniest, cutest stuff I've read on the Web. Fo' reals.

Oh, and 'sneefy'.. it's a word I ganked from this awesome chick and it describes a state of being whereupon you get all emotional, teary, moved, touched, etc. Like some movies are total sneef-fests.

 
At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Kelly Marie said...

My hamster died just 27hrs ago after i found her in her cage with a broken back :( she held on for 5 hours until she turned to look at me and put her paw out and gripped my finger,and i felt her take her last breath.I only had her about 10 months and she were more than 1 years old i'm sure,but i didn't half get attatched to her.My younger sister and brother sobbed their hearts out,but i waited till i were with Fudge alone and i cried for hours.I've welled up no end today.What makes it worse is we can't have an official buriel around here and i haven't been able to bury her anywhere as the ground isn't suitable in any of the places we are allowed to bury her.All i could do where put her in a box which i decorated for her,filled it with warm bedding,some of her food and wooden chew toys and a few little trinkets of mine.And i feel terrible as she had to go like that into the dustbin and taken away.I feel so guilty as she deserved a proper goodbye,but i obviously couldn't keep her in my home,and i feel like such a horrible mommy to her :( I got told that at 20 years old it's ridiculous to feel like this over a hamster.All i have now are memories,a few photo's and an empty cage :( So,i am so sorry about Kendra,i know how it feels now,and my chest still hurts when i think of her.

RIP both Fudge and Kendra xkissesx

 
At 6:40 PM, Anonymous JoJo said...

SOB my hamster died just then. It froze to the cold.
I woke up and was going to refill the food bowl when i noticed that it was very still with its eyes open under "The Wheel of Death" I tried to touch it with a stick, but it was stiff and hard and stuck in one position. I put it out to the sun. It is still there, Im trying to warm it up. I WANT IT TO BE ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 
At 1:38 PM, Anonymous bobs377 said...

I feel sad that your Kendra has died. My hamster Rita died today (luckily not the Wheel Of Death) and I feel terrible that I cannot hold her lovely furry body again and feel her whiskers tickling my nose. I loved Rita more than words can say. Luckily I have lots of lovely pictures so I can look at them and brighten up my day when Im feeling sad.

RIP Kendra and Rita the hamsters(good night forever and good bye.)

 

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