Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Funeral for a Fish

Greetings. Pastor Hank with you today.

Pastors have many duties. Most of them are joyous, but if there is one aspect of the job that is the most difficult, it is conducting a funeral. I take them very seriously, because that is also one of the times when I can make the biggest difference in people's lives, or can provide the greatest amount of comfort.

One of my other duties has been to my three wonderful girls. I know I haven't been the perfect father, but I have always tried to take their concerns to heart, and be there for them when they need me.

Sometimes, the worlds of pastor and father collide.

The start of my second year here in Kanner Lake began on a somber note, as a beloved matriarch of the church, Ruth Bowman, died. We had only been in the church a short time, but she had adopted my girls as her own grandchildren. Her funeral was the first one I conducted while at this church.

My older daughters were 14 and 11, and they strongly wanted to be there to pay their respects to "Gramma Bow." Amy and Abby were old enough to understand and were very sincere, so I acquiesced. However, this meant our youngest darling, Andrea (Andy), really wanted to go as well. Being 6, she had to be wherever her older sisters were, doing whatever they were doing. We didn't always give in, but this time, despite my misgivings, we let her come as well.

It was a beautiful service, and the girls did very well. I was touched by their concern, and I think it helped them understand that we would see Gramma Bow again when, as she put it, "these old bones have glory dressing on!" Afterwards, Janet and I watched for any signs of trouble, but my sweethearts were trooping on.

Then Jonah died.

Jonah was the most stubborn goldfish I'd ever seen. (The girls thought it was oh-so-clever to name the fish Jonah. They had a disturbingly good grasp on irony.) This fish outlasted so many bowl-mates, I thought he'd be buried with me. Now, we'd never had trouble when the other fish died. Usually Janet or I would find one "resting" as we called it, and we'd send him to the porcelain pool.

Mondays were my morning to sleep in. Dreaming of the whopper I'd pulled out of Cooper Creek with Wilbur recently, I was awakened by the sounds of sobbing next to my bed. I forced my eyes opened, only to be confronted by a dripping orange thing in my face.

"Daddy!" Our daughter wailed. "Jonah won't swim anymore!"

I jumped out of bed and gave my tenderheart a long cuddle to comfort her over the fish's death. I asked her what she wanted to do, since it was bothering her so much.

She wanted a funeral.

Not just a little recitation in the bathroom. She wanted it at the church. She wanted organ music. She asked if she and her sisters could be "ball-bearers."

I made the mistake of asking if a sensitive backyard service would be enough. Oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth (the latter was mostly mine).

Thankfully it was Monday, and no one was at the church. I got my finest suit on. The girls dressed in black. Janet knew enough organ to make it sound like she played. I emptied a matchbox and fastened straws to it so we could have our "ball-bearers."

Andy braved the loss well. Everyone spoke of their favorite moments of Jonah. These mostly consisted of him swimming around with his mouth open. We did have to draw the line at getting a headstone though.

My girls are all grown up now, but we can always get a laugh out of the famous Fish Funeral.

Janet's Side of the Fish Funeral Story

Listen, I practiced all of about 30 minutes on that organ music. Well, the truth is, I just played some chords on the lower octaves, to make it sound really dirge-y. I took about three organ lessons when I was a young girl, but my years of piano actually paid off for once. The girls didn't seem to notice, since all their attention and emotion was focused on that little fish.

Hank did a superb job, laid it on pretty thick, and satisfied the girls' need for closure. All in all, it was a very fine funeral--worthy of a fish named Jonah.

But you know, now I can't even remember where in the yard that fish is buried . . .

Posted by ~ Bailey Truitt @ 7:00 AM
Had I known you at the time and lived nearby, I would have attended the fish funeral--if simply to be able to say I'd once done such a thing. Such chances don't come along every day, you know.
Posted by Anonymous elizabeth monty : 8:06 AM
Hey, Pastor Hank, my son just lost one of his pet mice. Where's your black suit? Meet you at the church in an hour.
Posted by Anonymous burt laroy : 8:07 AM
Oh, my goodness. Wish I could have been there! I could have served coffee in the foyer . . .
Posted by Blogger ~ Bailey Truitt : 9:48 AM
Dad, this just shows what a wonderful father you were. And still are. Thanks for all you did for me.
Posted by Anonymous Andy : 11:49 AM
Where's Jake when ya need him? Hank, if Jake catches Big Jonah, will you give him a funeral?

The fish, I mean.
Posted by Anonymous r.j. hager : 3:26 PM
Did the obituary say, "in leau of flowers, donations may be made to SeaWorld?
Posted by Blogger Janet Rubin : 7:13 PM
Ouch, this is a sore spot with me. I have a fish tale of my own to share. Ironic. Your kids are cute. :)
Posted by Blogger C. Radling : 7:50 AM
We had six fish once. I named my two Crystal and Black Spot. All six died in the same day, just two days after we got them. My two lasted the longest with Black Spot dying last. We never had a funeral for them, but they took a swirly ride to their eternal resting place!
Posted by Blogger Cassidy : 2:47 PM
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