The Realities of Life and Death


My daughter’s first pet has passed on. RIP Charlie. You were a happy little guy, always swimming and hiding in your favorite spots. You brought joy and will forever be remembered.

Today I’m going to share my reflections on how Charlie’s passing brings me back to when my wife Cory passed nearly 10 years ago. More on that later… but first back to my daughter and her beloved Charlie.

Charlie was a betta fish. To many, a betta fish may not be perceived as anything significant. But to my daughter, Charlie was special. He was the first pet that she cared for, fed, and talked to about anything.

Each morning, she carefully measured Charlie’s food and watched him swim up to eat. As his food pebbles fell to the bottom, she tried directing Charlie to the food.

One day, Charlie was swimming happily, and the next he started to decline. Instantly my daughter noticed and wanted to take him to the vet. Her maternal instincts naturally took over.

She tried everything to make Charlie more comfortable by removing his tree and excess debris. As the days went by, Charlie progressively struggled. Lack of appetite, inability to swim and sinking to the bottom of the tank, sometimes laying helpless.

On Charlie’s last day, he was flapping his fin. Almost as though he was saying goodbye.

Now how does Charlie’s passing relate to the real world?

Charlie’s final fin-flapping reminds me of when I moved my daughter’s hand, waving goodbye to her Mom and my late wife Cory, as we walked out of the hospital room nearly 10 years ago so Cory could nap.

Little did I know, that would be the last time we’d see Cory awake. She never awoke, neither did Charlie. (For those of you who are first-time readers, Cory passed away from brain cancer when our Daughter was just 1-year-old.)

Coincidence or eerie similarities?

Void is often the most difficult aspect of saying goodbye. You take for granted that they are there, and then suddenly, the space occupied is now vacant.

Unless there’s a ceremonial burial in the yard, typically most pet fishes are simply flushed down the toilet.

My daughter asked me to take a few pictures of her with Charlie as he laid lifeless in a container. As she released him into the toilet bowl, something grabbed a hold of her internally. She wasn’t ready to let him go.

For the next few moments, she struggled to push down the lever. Placing her hand on it preparing herself for the final release only to pull her hand away. Even though Charlie was lifeless, there’s always something about his physical presence that was comforting. Like how we humans celebrate funerals and wakes.

As a father, I did my best to hold her, letting her know she can take all the time she needs. When’s she ready, she’ll let Charlie go, physically.

The realities of life and death can be difficult to understand. Words can’t often describe the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that pour out. Answering my daughter’s questions that evening was no different. I didn’t have answers that could be validated with proof. Instead, I shared religious beliefs, personal stories, and thoughts.

Is there an afterlife? What happens to our souls? Depending on your beliefs, there may or may not be defined answers.

As for my daughter, I’m proud of how she’s coped with her loss. She asked those difficult questions, shed some tears, and understands that life does go on. Over time, vivid memories will eventually fade, but Charlie’s legacy will always remain with her.

The roller coaster of life has some gut-wrenching drops. I’ve always found that no matter how long the drop, eventually, it’ll be a straight shot upward.

Grieving is no different, although I prefer to celebrate the life, rather than mourn the void or loss.

I think my daughter now understands the same logic.

For Charlie; keep those feet moving.

AJ Coleman