Pet Cemetery

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By Andrea Goto

My daughter experienced the first death in our family when the neighbor’s cat, Willie, died. Willie had been circling the drain for some time. His spine protruded from his scrawny back and he complained constantly, emitting a low, haunting death chant of a mew that seemed to say, “I’m done with you.”

One day he crawled under the neighbor’s porch and “went to sleep.” We smelled him a couple of days later.

My daughter, who can tell if I change my nail polish or pluck my eyebrows, noticed Willie’s absence almost immediately. I took this as a teachable moment.

“Willie died, Baby,” I said. “He’s in kitty Heaven.”

Shockingly, Ava didn’t have any follow-up questions, which is good since I don’t think I’m capable of keeping a straight face while trying to describe the feline afterlife.

A couple of weeks later, I overheard Ava explain to a friend that Willie was no longer with us.

“He dived,” she said solemnly.

Needing clarification, I interjected: “Like, into a pool?”

“Yes, Mommy. He’s gone,” she said, her eyebrows furrowed in seriousness.

I let it slide; who am I to split hairs?

Our second brush with death came last week. When I got home from work, Ava called me into her bedroom to introduce me to her new pet.

“Look, Mommy, he loves me!” she exclaimed, holding out her palm.


There sat a fly. A repulsive, feces-frolicking, Jeff Goldblum-looking fly that she ceremoniously named “Skyler.”

“Ooooh, he’s PUH-retty,” I say, trying to blow the maggot out of her hand. He came complete with a private Tupperware pool and a Cheetos buffet, like an off-brand Malibu Barbie.

Later, I confided in my husband that I’d never seen a domesticated fly. “Do you think she has some special gift?” I asked, while Googling the phone number for the Today Show.

“Nah,” he said, “they get like that right before they die. It probably won’t last until morning.”

It’s bad enough that he administered the adoption of Ava’s pet fly, but then he had to go and get one that was on its last leg?

Sure enough, the next morning Skyler is in the throes of death, flailing on his back. Ava laughs hysterically at his dance of death, which causes me some unease.

“Look, he’s doing hip-hop!” she giggles joyfully while prodding him.

I can’t take it. Even Skyler deserves a death with dignity. But first thing’s first.

“Go wash your hands,” I instruct Ava. “Then we have to set him free.”

“But why?” she whines.

“Because . . . because . . .” I can’t do it. I can’t tell my child that her pet fly is going to “dive” into a pool. Or go to insect Heaven. Or bite the bullet. So I play the trump card (and silently thank Stellaluna for the plot device): “He wants to find his Mommy.”

Before Ava can object, I’m on the front porch chucking Skyler into the air, trying to create the illusion of flight.

“Where’d he go?” Ava asks, looking into the sky.

“He flew off to find his Mommy!” I singsong.

Ava looks down. “No, he’s right there,” she says, pointing to his lifeless body perched on a pile of pine straw. “I think he’s dead.”

I’ve got nothing. And it shows.

“It’s okay, Mommy,” Ava reassures me, putting her hand on my arm. “A birdie will eat him. They need food to live, you know.”

As parents, we sometimes make things more complicated than they need to be. Let’s face it; at 5-years-old, life is relatively easy. People are good or bad, games are fun or lame, Barbies are pretty or brunette. There’s no gray area. No nuance. And matters of life and death? Well, they’re just that.

Andrea Goto swore that she would not let her child watch SpongeBob, take ballet, or consume food with Red Dye #40. Of course, that all changed when her daughter was actually born. Five years later, Andrea blogs about her revised approach to childrearing, which she likes to call Real-World Parenting. Her “technique” is based on commonsense and topped with a big dose of humor. Andrea is a regular contributor to
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Reader Comments:


I loved your post! My children are older now, but definitely remember these experiences. One of the lessons I learned thru the years, was to just be honest with them. They get it, somehow. Death is difficult, but it is part of life. I think that is the explanation, or it was at my house. That doesn't mean we are not sad, it just is. I like how you are honest with what you see! I remember a trip with my kids to grandmas with the new puppy german shephard. The kids had orange crush on the way(their dad's idea). Well, the puppy got a little carsick and threw up all over his carrier. My middle child, was very sensitive to smells and in a split second, he threw up! Soon, the youngest was ready to go and thought throwing up out the window was the best option. Well... my husband at the time, was not going to stop for anything, so at 70 mph, my youngest threw up out the window, and the orange slime, of course, blew right back into his face, into the window and hit my third child! At this point, the image of the pie eating contest on "Stand by me" flew into my mind, and I began to laugh hysterically! I was IN TROUBLE, because orange slime had also reached Mr. stop for nothing's clean clothes, hanging behind the 2nd row. We definitely stopped. As I cleaned the kids up, I could not stop chuckling. I think the message that the kids got, was sometimes things just get messy...but life goes on!

By Lori Bossemeyer on July 13, 2011


What a great post. I appreciate the candid parent who is honest about the sometimes awkward parts of parenting. Death has been a common theme in our house as well (I have 3 and 5 year-olds.) and I find myself explaining until I turn blue, when a simple answer will suffice. This parenting thing is hard sometimes! smile

By Elizabeth Rago on June 14, 2011


@Patty: I'm so sorry for your family's loss. I can't imagine. Of course, I would never make light of loved one's death, especially when it comes to losing a parent. I was simply surprised by my daughter's ability to accept the cycle of life, as it applies to the fly anyway. Her beloved cat, however, will be another issue altogether. @Anita: Batteries?! Love it.

By Andrea Goto on June 14, 2011


loved this story!-When my son was a toddler we raised a couple pigs a year. One year my husband, taking the pigs to the slaughter house, had Jason with him. This part of the process was not too bad since all our son saw were the pigs getting into the trailer at our house and then out into a pen at the slaughter house. He said his good byes and both he and dad came home. Well two weeks later it was time to go pick up the "pigs". This time it was my turn and Jason rode along. when we get to the slaughter house I settle our bill and the man brings out a few brown boxes to set into the back of my car. On the ride home Jason kept looking from the boxes to straight ahead and looking perplexed. I finally asked him if something was wrong and he asked if the pigs were in the boxes. Oh, no-now I have to tell him what happened to the pigs. Well, all I said was yes and waited for another question. Jason's next question was, "are they dead"? After I answered yes, Jason had this long sad face. I asked if he was sad the pigs were dead and he nodded. Then I explained that some animals are here to make food and some to be pets and that seemed to be acceptable to him. The rest of the ride home was without questions or comments about the pigs. But on our next grocery shopping trip, well now the questions, Jason would point to each package of meat in the case and ask what type of animal it was!

By Denise on June 12, 2011


What a wonderful story. I have an almost two year-old and have been dreading this part of parenting. These stories show me that maybe I don't have to worry so much.

By Sasha Martin on June 11, 2011


This is a very sensitive subject for me personally, and I'm sure a lot of other people in my position. My kids lost thier father suddenly when they were 3 and 4 years old -- now try and explain THAT! This sounds so trivial. Just saying, no offense taken.

By patty on June 11, 2011


That was really cute. My daughter told my grandson that his turtle had died and he said to my daughter, "His battery runned out." My daughter told him yes, he is in turtle heaven. So my grandson said, "we have batteries in the drawer", "we can change his battery." My daughter told him that we can't change his battery because he does not have a place to put it. So they buried it in the yard.

By Anita Edmond on June 11, 2011


I have had to explain death one to many times to my 4 year old Ivigayle. My good friend passed when she was 2 of cancer, my step-dads co-worker passed do to cancer (he would always bring her candy and furit to my moms) her dog got ran over in front of her when she was 4, her hamster passed in front of her at 4 too. These where hard events to get past and she still brings them up. I told her that when it is time for animals and people to go that they fly up with a glem of light get there angel wings and live with the greatest man there ever was "God". She asked me if her dog Rusty got wings, I told her yes and he is with you ever day to make sure you are save and sees now that they you have a new puppy that is giving you as much joy as you had with him, and it is the same when people pass to go be with the big man in the sky and that all your loved one are still with you even thow you cant see them they are there watching all the joy in life happen every day. My daughter is about to turn 5 and I know she will experience many more deaths in her life I hope I have lead her in the right direction at such a young age to understand and have good reasoning with death.

By Julie Jenkins on June 11, 2011


Too funny! The picture of Little Miss with her fly and her beauty mark is just to die for! Love it! Lori

By Lori Wilson on June 10, 2011

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