A “Fishy” Funeral

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Jasmina81

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Jasmina81

 

My brother died.

It was about a week after we had returned home from my brother’s funeral in Michigan when my son, Sam, found his fish dead. Tears were streaking down his sweet face as he ran into our bedroom to tell me Sam Jr. was dead. After my husband and I and our older son each offered Sam our condolences, our family made the decision to have a funeral for Sam Jr. My son, with a look of determination, said “We will have the funeral tonight after dinner. I need to decide whether I want a burial at sea or a traditional burial. I’ll think about it while I am at school today.”

As dinner approached that evening, Sam decided that a “burial at sea” (flushing Sam Jr. down the toilet) was the most appropriate burial for his fish since he would be “returning to the place he was born.”

We lit candles, dimmed the bathroom lights and listened to Sam tearfully tell stories of how he loved his fish and how much he was going to miss him. Then Sam scooped him up, gently placed him in the commode, said a prayer and flushed. That was it -Sam Jr. was gone from our lives forever.

As I held my crying son in my arms, I felt my own tears; partly from the active grief I was experiencing from my brother’s too recent death and partly from seeing my son grieve. Then he began to share with me words that sounded eerily familiar:

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Crisma

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Crisma

“Mom, I’m just going to miss him so much.”

“Mom, we read a book today in class and there was a part about a dead fish. I started to cry but I pulled it together.”

“Mom, I thought about Sam Jr. at recess today.”

“Mom, it’s going to be a while before I can talk about him and not cry.”

The words of babes! My son was repeating everything he had heard and seen our family do as we mourned and buried my brother. He was present throughout – for the visitation at the funeral home, the family meeting with the pastor, the funeral, the graveside services, the luncheon reception – and he was taking it all in, silently observing how his family grieves, how his family values ceremony, how his family begins a journey of healing.

Photo Courtesy of Sesame Street: When Families Grieve

Photo Courtesy of Sesame Street: When Families Grieve

If you know of a child or family going through the loss of a parent or sibling, I invite you to look at the amazing children’s grief resources put out by Sesame Street by clicking here.

To request a Children’s Grief Resource Packet (specially compiled by our staff) please contact me by email at blomaka@oconnormortuary.com.

 

Did you ever have a service for a pet member of the family?

How have children in your life processed loss?

Becky

About Becky

Becky is the Community Development Director at O'Connor Mortuary and one of the most dynamic members of our team. She is most passionate about creating connections, developing relationships, and getting valuable resources out into our community. She and her husband John live in Irvine with their two boys, Ben and Sam, and their yellow lab, Sandy. They are avid hockey fans with the boys on several local teams. Becky spends most of her weekends attending their games and cheering them on, being a mom and a wife are her top priorities and she balances this busy life of hers with grace and a lot of laughter. We are thrilled to have her expertise, enthusiasm, and passion on board!
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  • Neil

    Hi Becky –
    I love your blog!
    As I think back in time, I am always amazed what life’s plan has in store for us. Who would have predicted 10 years ago that we would be working side by side with each other now. This year has been so incredible, we have had many high’s and many lows. No matter how many years you work at a mortuary it will never really prepare you for a death in your family. I know working at a mortuary does give you an inside perceptive on funeral service, yet the pain of journey is still overwhelming and hard. Your brother Rob’s death was so tragic and hard to understand, we will never have the answers to why he to die. I am honored to be with you during the most difficult time in your family’s life. As I reflect on Rob’s death and the days after that the visitation, funeral, graveside & the reception, there are so many teaching moments for your family & friends. The gift you gave everyone (especially Ben & Sam) was how to grieve in a healthy manner. You could have decided to have a private service or leave the boys in California, and try an sweep Rob’s death under the rug, to “protect them”. I am glad your family honored Rob and all those he loved by allowing us to grieve together as a community & family. There really is not a more powerful ritual or ceremony that we can be a part of in life. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your family. I am honored to be an adopted member of the Lomaka-Finch family!

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thank you, Neil, for all you have done for my family. I agree, a few years back I never would have believed it if someone had told me I would be working at a mortuary. But here I am! And what a true blessing it has been for me. Not only is O’Connor an amazing place to work but the love and support I felt from you and everyone at O’Connor during this most difficult time is something I will always carry with me.

      As we talked about yesterday, grief is something that no one wants to experience but is something that you must allow yourself to do if you want to begin to heal. As painful as it was, I can’t imagine doing anything different.

  • Becky, I love this post. It is so clear through Sam’s words that he has and is continuing to learn really important facets about what sadness and grief look like. I think few of us get that chance so young, and while we’d rather it not come to us, there will be more compassion in your boys’ hearts for hurting people because of what they’ve gone through with you & loosing your brother.

    Thank you for sharing such a special story and for helping your son walk his fish-less road with peace. You gave him a great gift.

    Molly

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thanks Molly! As tough as this has been for our family, I am proud that our boys have walked along side us during this journey and hopefully now know that grief is something you go “through” and not “around”.

  • Jeff Turner

    Becky,
    This story so clearly shows how you are passing on traditions for grieving that will serve your boys well the rest of their lives in all manor of loss they will encounter. The depth and value of how profound these patterns are for you now and for your families future are immeasurable. Thank you for sharing this with us. It is a peek into just how sweet, intimate, vulnerable and honest Sam can be because you have made it “safe” to explore and express such deep groanings of his young soul. When loss visits him in the future it will be a more familiar than it was. What a great lesson of wisdom Sam has shared with us through your re-telling the story. Thank him for me.
    Jeff

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thanks Jeff. I have explored and experienced grief, both personally and professionally, in great detail over the past several months and I am confident that including our children and allowing our children to grieve along side was absolutely the best thing we could have done for them.

      I thank you for all I have learned from you as you walk along side families (including my own) and support them on this most difficult journey. I will certainly pass your words of thanks along to Sam.

  • Fitz

    Becky,
    What a great post! It reminded me of when our bird, Skippy, died. Our youngest, Teddy, was impacted the most. We didn’t realize at the time how much the bird meant to him so we didn’t really ask for his input. We certainly found out when we mentioned to him that I was going to bury Skippy in an open area behind our jacuzzi. He started to cry that he didn’t want him buried there. So i engage him and asked where he would like Skippy buried. He tok me out to the back yard and pointed to a spot behind a specific tree on the side yard and said, “Here.” The lesson I learned that day was to be more observant (I must admit I was in “sensor” mode at the time of my original decision of where to bury the bird). It was truly an enlightening moment for me at how children need to be involved. They will let you know in their own way how a death has impacted them and also how they want to be involved. The adults think they know what’s best but the children can provide a teaching moment for us “know it alls”.
    Thanks,
    Fitz

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Fitz, I am glad to hear that you get in touch with your “feeler” side sometimes! It was amazing for John and I to see our boys and my young nephew interact after my brother died. Children don’t get caught up in worrying “am I doing the right thing” or “am I saying the right thing” they just do and say what comes naturally to them. I hope I continue to allow my children to teach me!

  • Anne

    Hi Becky
    Welcome to the world of O’Connor Blogging! It brought back memories of dead hamsters, birds, fish, and other precious creatures to my daughter at a younger age. Also, the very recent loss of her dear cat to a coyote a couple weeks back. They had a funeral and a burial and a ceremony.
    We do need ceremony and a place and way to remember. Whether it’s a ground burial or a flush back to the ocean, we have to show we honor and value the loss. What we do with our humans and what we do with our animals are often very similar.
    I know the loss of your brother is still so fresh as is the loss of my dear Lou, but how we grieve does create a legacy for how our children and their children will handle things when they have to say goodbye to us.
    Love
    Anne

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Anne, you are so right when you say we NEED ceremony and a place and a way to remember. As difficult as it was to bury my brother, I cannot even imagine the pain I would be feeling now if I had not gone through that experience and our family had chosen not to have any ceremony.

      I do hope that we have helped to create a legacy for how our boys grieve. I love your words “value the loss” – it is the perfect phrase for why we do what we do – be it a brother, a husband, or a pet.

      My heart still aches for you too as you grieve the loss of your beloved Lou. I am so grateful that you are in my life and I cherish our talks together.

  • Sharon Watkins

    Becky
    Oh my goodness – this is such a touching story. My heart just ached for your sweet little boy! I’m sure the grief he felt is as real to him as any grief an adult feels after any loss. After all loss is loss and feelings of grief flood over us whether it is the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job or a goldfish!
    You and your family were so kind and compassionate to acknowledge his grief and allow him to resolve that grief the way that was comforting to him. And I too believe that he learned so many life lessons of how to grieve from watching his family as you all so recently experienced the loss of your brother – someone that you love so much.
    Thank you so much for sharing this sweet experience with us.
    Luvs,
    Sharon

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thank you, Sharon. It was very emotionally healing for me to put this experience in writing. You are right, Sam’s grief for the loss of his fish was just as real as it was for the loss of his uncle. You know that as a parent you try to do the “right” thing and in this case I think we did.

  • Shayna Mallik

    Becky,
    What a great blog! Your son experienced grief when loosing his pet fish. I think it is great that you had a ceremony for Sam Jr. I think that will help your son tons. Some people think how can you grieve for an animal but we make connections even if it is with our pet fish. I commend you for having and letting your son show his emotions, and for your whole family to offer condolences and let him know you are all there for him. How cute a burial at sea! Welcome to blogging, I cant wait to read more of your amazing blogs!!!!!

    <3 Shayna

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thanks Shayna. I agree with you – our pets (even fish) are a huge part of our family and we grieve for them just like we do for our human family members. The “burial at sea” was pretty cute when he said it!

  • Lori

    Becky,
    Ahhh, how sweet your Sam is! I love that he named his fish Sam Jr.
    What an important post. I am so glad grief is discussed more openly today. When I lost my father, nobody talked about it. I missed out on grieving appropriately because people didn’t know how to talk about it back then.
    I know your post will help parents of other children who have to experience the loss of a pet or a family member.
    Thanks, Becky!
    xoxo Lori

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thanks Lori! Yes, Sam has never been the most creative child when it comes to naming pets and stuffed animals. The fish – “Sam Jr.”, the Teddy Bear – “Teddy”; the stuffed dog – “Doggie”; you get the picture. But he is a very sweet little boy and I am glad her knows that it is ok to cry and grieve.

  • Jenn

    Great blog Becky, it is amazing how quickly children pick up on things, allowing them to experience loss is very important in my opinion. If they are put in the dark about what is going on and only see the change in their parents behaviors they may feel like its their fault or that it was something they did that is making the parents sad. Allowing them to participate is key to helping them in future events or even smaller life events that are emotional or even tragic. It gives them the skills to work through their pain and emulate the adults reactions around them.

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thanks Jenn. I agree with you. It is something that my parents modeled for me and I am glad that John and I can pass this valuable lesson in life on to my boys.

  • Amy

    Becky,
    We did the same thing for my daughter’s fish. How touching it is that they get the same feelings for their pet. I commend you for allowing your boys to be very involved and part of all the services for your brother. It allows them to go thru all the same process as you. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Amy

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thank you, Amy. It was important to us to make sure the children were all a part of my brother’s funeral services. We want them to know they are part of the family – through good and bad times. It ha been a rough year for them to experience the death of a hockey friend, their uncle and a pet but I hope they have learned through all of this that it is ok to grieve, to ask questions, and to be sad.

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Thank you Kari. It really was amazing to see how the grief experience affected Sam. You never know – he may end up in the profession just like your Michael! I am glad to be a part of this incredible team!! Thank you for making my job so great.

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Thanks Michael,
    Well, if you feel your capacity to love wasn’t that strong at a young age, I think you have made up for it tenfold! I see how comforting you are to the families we serve. Maybe Sam will train under you one day!

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Thank you, Carrie. You know all too well about the terrible pain of the loss of a family member but you are so right – it is something we need to experience to eventually heal. I hope Sam and Ben have taken the first steps to learning this valuable life lesson.

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Thanks Mitch! I saw a great quote yesterday, “The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.” It reminded me of what you just said – kids are ALWAYS watching and listening.

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Thanks Chris – it is certainly an important lesson I have learned in the short time I have been here at O’Connor. As tough as it is to go through the grief, it is just that – going “through” it and coming out stronger on the other end.

  • Elsa

    Becky,
    What a great story. I love that your son made the decision about the funeral for his dear pet. It is always amazing to hear the grief of a child. They are always so true to their feelings. It is so important for them to know that their feelings are real and ok to express. I am sure that because of you, your son has learned the proper steps in grieving his loving friend.
    Thank You for Sharing.
    Elsa

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thanks Elsa. Well, I can thank all of you for help in this department! I have learned so much from all of you in my short time I have been here at O’Connor.

      You ate so right, children are so innocent and open with their grief, we can all learn from them,

  • Greg Forster

    Becky,

    What a wonderful story of a family learning some of the harder parts of life and doing it together. As a parent, you remind us all of the fact that as adults, we remain teachers forever. There is no age limit to the life lessons, values and experiences that we can impart to our kids, their friends and others. We are role models in whatever we do, so we better be up to the task of providing our best.

    As for ceremonies, in addition to a prayer or moment of silence, I found out 2 things in regards to small animal burials:
    Holding the shovel or trowel and digging the hole myself was most meaningful.
    “Gently used” check book boxes with the pets name written on top were a most appropriate and ecologically sensitive bio-degradable coffin (with a wrapped tissue serving as a “shroud”)

    Placing a stone or marker on the spot so we didn’t inadvertently disinter “peaches” or whatever later on and get an unexpected surprise.
    And yes, sometimes the toilet for me also served with ceremonial value (although a friend tried this once with a pigeon and, to our horror, it did not quite work).

    Thank you for helping me to remember these meaningful, thoughtful times.

    Greg

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thank you, Greg. Yes, I am learning quickly that my children are ALWAYS watching John and I. I like your idea of using the check boxes and letting the kids write the name of their beloved pet on the box. A pigeon in the commode!? Now that is one for the memory books!

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Wow! What a sweet story. At that age, I would have never thought to do that for a pet. Unfortunately, it may have been your circumstances with your brother that made him think of having the funeral to the fishy. I remember my sister did the same for a cat they had and it is so sad to see. Such genuine vulnerabilty in their emotions. I love how you encouraged and supported his decision to honor his little friend as well. To be honest, I don’t think I would have prior to reading your tale. It seemed very necessary for him. Thank you very much for sharing!!

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thanks Joanna. I think you are right-the death of my brother helped him with the idea of the funeral for his little fish. Children are so vulnerable and sweet and they seem to be able to accept grief a lot easier than most adults can.

  • Lauren

    Thanks for sharing Becky!
    It’s so important that kids are heard and are able to express their feelings. And how great it was for Sam to honor his fish that way with his family by his side.

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thank you, Lauren. It was our fist official pet funeral in our home. It was very sweet to listen to Sam eulogize his fish. A life lesson for me even more than for him.

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Thanks Mark. It just seemed natural for us to have all of the children be involved in my brother’s services. They are part of this family – and the good and bad things that come with it. It was very sweet to see Sam want to have ceremony for his fish- just like we did for his uncle.

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Thank you, Shasta. I agree with you and I see it in my own family, we all grieve differently and we need to support one another in that. I think the most important thing is to grieve and not ignore the pain.

  • Erin Fodor

    I have lost a few family pets throughout the years, but have not had any sort of memorial service for them. I wish I had, there is something to be said with the closure you get from having a formal goodbye and sharing stories. Your son sounds like he really needed that service, to start to heal from the loss. Thanks for sharing Becky!

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thanks Erin. Yes, I think he needed the service for his fish and so did I. Still reeling from the death of my brother, as I listened to Sam talk about the funeral for his fish, it actually brought me some peace.

  • Joe Lavoie

    I have had the opportunity to face a close loss in our family specifically my wife , I felt my daughters handled everything with even better composure than I had at times as they were both in their teens and wise beyond their age. We have also had the loss of a few pets and everything was very meaningful in their own way and taken care of with the same dignity and respect as they were family members to . We all learned a lot from each experience and have grown within our family when it come to grief.
    Sincerely Joe

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thanks Joe. I think we learned a lot as a family too and I hope we have come out stronger and better prepared to handle grief. Watching and listening to Sam eulogize his fish helped me realize that kids understand and “get” grief, no matter how young they are. Sometimes they are wiser than us adults.

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Becky . . Thank you so much for putting your feelings, and Sam’s, to pen and giving us a very private look at the journey you are now on. While most adults have a better understanding of death and grieving, our children most often are left behind when the death of a loved one happens. I am so very thankful that you allowed Ben and Sam to be part of your families grief. And when Sam Jr. died, he began the healing process by thinking about how he wanted to honor Sam Jr’s life. Amazing!
    Many, many years ago, our sweet Golden Retriever, Brandy, was diagnosed with a tumor on her spine. At the end she couldn’t walk and had to be carried outside to go potty. It was heartbreaking to watch and the only thing we thought of was to put her out of her misery. We didn’t tell the kids the day their Dad took her to the vet. It was a terrible experience for him, but the lack of concern that I had for my children, thinking that if she were just gone when they came home from school, would be best. I was so wrong. They cried and cried. I cried and cried. My daughter is now experiencing that in her family with their 13 year old cat Phoebe. She is so frail and skinny, and we thought a month ago she was going to die. She is still here, eating, peeing and pooping. Kristen has told the children that Phoebe is dying and that they will make her comfortable until she does. I had our neighbor make a small “casket”. He painted it white and Phoebe will be buried in the back yard, with a ceremony, when she dies. How much healthier it would have been for my kids, to have been given the chance to say goodbye to their life long friend. Something I will regret for the rest of my life!
    Thank you again, Becky. I’m so thrilled that you are here with us!
    Lovingly,
    Pat

    • Becky Finch Lomaka

      Thank you, Pat. I hope you can allow yourself Grace for a choice you made so long ago. We all do the best we can at the moment as parents. It sounds to me that your choices were made out of love for your children, just as mine were for my boys. I am not sure I would have done anything more than flush the fish down the toilet while Sam was at school if I had not just experienced such a painful loss in my own life. Sadly, my boys have had to experience grief at much too young an age but my hope is that it will help them through other losses they will experience throughout their lives.