COLUMN: Happy’s sad story a chance to tell the ‘big truth’

Death of a child's cherished goldfish becomes a teachable moment.

Happy died last week, leaving my husband Jason and me to contemplate whether our preschooler was ready for the “big truth.”

What our dear three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Molly, doesn’t know is that her goldfish was actually Happy number two – the original kicked the bucket last summer and was flushed straight to fishy heaven.

“Distract Molly and I’ll run out to Petland and get another fish,” said Jason as we watched our baby’s lifeless pet go round and round the toilet bowl and disappear into the dark abyss.

“Honey, I think it’s time to tell her,” I objected, already knowing his response.

“Why upset her if we don’t have to? She’s too young to understand,” he said.

Truth be told, I had another agenda.

With my 91-year-old grandfather in the hospital – a man who both Molly and her two-and-a-half-year old sister, Zoe, have become quite fond of – I figured it was an opportunity to prepare her for one of life’s inevitable hard lessons.

At 31, it’s still one l find impossible to swallow.

I may have taken him for granted growing up, but lately I’ve been soaking up every fleeting moment we have left together.

My grandfather, Leonard – a dapper Englishman who stands at 6’3” with a soft British accent, kind eyes and a cheeky sense of humour – has told me he’s ready to go.

Recently, he suffered yet another big fall, resulting in a shattered disc in his back – just a few weeks earlier he had taken a terrible tumble and broke his jaw – his frail body black and blue from head-to-toe.

I know I’m lucky to have had him around for this long, but losing him will be like losing my own dad, again.

What I lacked in a father figure growing up, my grandpa made up for tenfold.

From taking me to one of my first job interviews back when I was a teen to walking me down the aisle and helping me with the purchase of my first home, he has always been an important figure in my life.

While grandpa has been fortunate to escape the wrath of a terminal illness like cancer, his body is slowly failing him. So is his will to go on.

It’s heartbreaking to watch grandpa, who used to be so able-bodied in the garden and a whiz in his workshop, struggle to eat, breathe, or even hug his great-grandchildren.

Despite a generation gap of almost an entire century, Molly and Zoe get on quite well with their great grandpa. They look at him with the same adoration and respect that I do.

Unlike Happy, Daddy won’t be able to replace their great grandpa when he his gone, nor will he be able to fill the giant void it will create for his wife.

Knowing that one day soon we could be grappling with his loss, we decided to use Happy’s death as an opportunity to teach Molly about life.

“Why did my Happy have to die?,” wailed my little pint-sized princess as tears streamed down her face.

“I want her to come back, please bring her back to me!”

It wasn’t the most comfortable talk, but as I’m learning in my 30s, life is full of heartache – situations that can’t always be mended by a proverbial Band-Aid.

And while we recently welcomed a new addition to our family – a beautiful goldfish named Sophie – our Molls has survived her first big goodbye. I can only pray it’s a lesson that doesn’t come in handy any anytime soon. But if it does, our family is a bit more prepared.

Kristyl Clark is a stay-at-home-mom and founder of the family blogazine, She’s a Valley Mom (www.shesavalleymom.com). She writes writes monthly for The Leader.

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