Last Saturday, our daughter’s betta-fish, Wolf, died. My hubby normally wakes up at dawn. He noticed Wolf at the bottom of his bowl when he went into the kitchen to get his morning cup. Wolf’s head was pointed up. His eyes were closed. There was pallor around his slack mouth. Hubby told me he tapped gently on the bowl, hoping to elicit some movement. There was none.
During the week that led up to Saturday, we noticed Wolf barely moving around the bowl. He stayed pretty much near the bottom. We could still see his gills move. He still moved his beautiful fins, but ever so gently. We knew the end was near. I had mentioned in a past post that I suspected he was going blind. That was almost two years ago.
Wolf has been with us longer than he should have. No one knows, really, how old betta fish are when they are purchased from pet stores. He lived about five years in our house. Occasionally, he went back to our daughter’s apartment. But it was too cold in the city. And they turned off the heat during the day when everyone was at work. And so, Wolf came back to us, where most days, the temperatures are warmer. Anywhere south of SFO is warmer.
By the time I pulled him out of the bowl, Wolf was stiff. I should not have been surprised. After all, even small fish go through rigor mortis. I placed him inside the compost bin among the mango skins and strawberry leaves. He was no longer his usual bright orange color.
I was sad to see this little creature go. For the past five years, he was someone to care for and to think about when we have to travel. I like to think he kept us company in the kitchen, along with our dog, Beau. He reminded me of my daughter, who ended up giving him to us after a series of back and forths between two homes. His death is a loss. A small loss. A loss nevertheless. It still left me empty in that spot between the ribs.
I think about my other recent losses: childhood friend, Anna, in January, when she succumbed to her cancer. Colleen, daughter and sister of good friends, the Chengs, who passed away suddenly last week. I remembered my friend, Vanna, who passed on in April 2011. They were all gone too soon. There’s my mother-in-law, Justina, who left us in March 2011. She lived a life filled with beauty and perfection. We miss these people, no matter what. Their having entered our lives have changed us in more ways than we can consciously understand. We rediscover their “isms,” comments and statements which we may not have made much of, then. But eventually we treat them as sage and we find ourselves quoting them. They may not necessarily be profound as in Aristotle-esque profundity, but maybe we recall the comments if only to bring them back into our present reality, on our insistence on keeping them with us a little longer.
I know what you might be thinking. What is she talking about? It’s just a betta fish dying. What’s all this drama? Is it the menopausal brain fog? Is it the hormones going all over the place? Or is she depressed or something?
Well, not really.
I’m don’t consider myself depressive. I do think of myself as mindful.
Just as life is all around us, so is death. Just as we are born so must we one day die. We look forward to our futures as an affirmation of life. But we also need to look towards our passing to affirm the same.
I don’t have much hang-ups about talking or dealing with death. Having seen enough of it, talked through it and about it, throughout med school and residency cures one of any fears, misconceptions, or reservations. However, being able to talk about it does not decrease its gravity nor its finality. Death is a fact of life.