You know your house is out of control when you can walk by a dead fish in the middle of your hallway without even noticing it’s there.
For some reason, there were socks strewn all through the house that day. Each time I walked by the long, dark blob, I tried to figure out whose sock it was. Cooper’s? It seemed too small. Sylvia’s? Her black socks all have bright designs on them. Maybe it was a leaf? Finally, I bent closer to look.
I gasped in horror to see Raven, Cooper’s beloved betta fish, lying on the floor. Only one way it could have gotten there: the cat.
Mittens the kitten had been stalking his fishbowl for weeks. She drank the water, dipped her paw in, but it didn’t occur to me that she would commit cold-blooded murder — the slaying of her cold-blooded brother from another mother.
I broke the news to the kids, who took it hard. Cooper’s taken good care of his little fish for a year. He never missed a feeding and spoke to his little blue friend daily. We’ve watched him grow, moved him from tank to tank and considered including him in our family photo.
But, as with any death we encounter, I considered it an opportunity to reinforce our family’s beliefs, so that one day when it’s a loved one who passes, I don’t have to teach those lessons from scratch.
“You know,” I said, “he’s in a better place, now. Now he can swim in a big pond with lots of other fish.”
“He can’t swim with other fish,” they cried. “He’s a betta. He’s aggressive and antisocial.”
So I told them that the Bible says that in Heaven, the lion will lay down with the lamb. “Do you know what that means?” I asked.
“That a lion and a lamb are going to sleep together?” (No need to read in an adult twist on that term: They’re thinking bunk beds.)
“Well, it means there will be no killing in Heaven. Mittens killed Raven because in the wild, she would have to be able to hunt to survive. It’s her instinct. But in Heaven, she wouldn’t have to kill.”
Their tear-filled eyes grew wide.
“What the HECK, mom? What would she eat in Heaven?”
“Ummmm, fruit and veggies maybe.”
They bristled. “Are you trying to tell us there’s no MEAT in Heaven? Why would anyone even want to go there?”
The tears turned back on, their sorrows over our lost pet compounded now with the impending loss of meat in our diets.
“Is there meat in Hell?” they asked. The discussion was taking a bad turn.
We had yet another funeral in front of the house, and I marveled at my son’s tender heart. The tears were genuine, the service a work of love. And that evening, he took murderess Mittens to his bed and cuddled her.
Cooper learned a lot about forgiveness. He came to understand that fish-killing is a cat’s nature, and it can’t be unlearned. It was a reminder that we don’t have to like everything about someone to love them regardless. We have to accept differences, even those that seem unnatural to our way of thinking. And that was a good lesson.
The vegetarian Heaven, not so much.