How a Little Loss Taught Us a Big Lesson


Our family suffered a loss this weekend.

Gubbles the family fish passed away. 

Things started going downhill when he was sent to my mother-in-law's house for a week while we went to the Bay Area for a family visit during the Christmas break. He wasn't his normal self when he returned. And weeks later, he got worse.  This weekend, the downhill trend continued with erratic behavior: him diving to the bottom of the fish bowl and then swimming furiously to the top until he finally just stopped swimming. 

My oldest son won him as a prize at summer camp almost two years ago. I was so against the idea of a fish. But he stepped up and took great care of him. He fed him on schedule and cleaned his bowl regularly. I was impressed.

My son had grown attached to the fish, almost like he was the family puppy. So when he started declining he took it hard.....even broke down at church two weekends ago while requesting prayer for the fish. Sounds crazy, I know, but that's how attached he was. Even family members urged me to buy a new fish to swap out for Gubbles. But there was no way I was going to do that. And if I did, how many times would I have to do it so he would't have to face loss?

My son is 11 and that's old enough to know that loss happens. It's a part of the cycle of life. 

Sure, I wanted to protect him from the pain, but it is inevitable. And protecting him from the pain of life is not my job as a parent--preparing him for it is.

So we talked about the average life span of a fish, which is two years maximum. We discussed how he'd taken great care of the fish and grew into a responsible pet owner. We talked about losing something (or someone) we have become attached to while holding on to the memories. We talked about what it would look like when the fish did eventually die.

When it happened, he was prepared. Heartbroken, but prepared. As a parent, I want to protect my kids from so many things: the mean kid who speaks the truth with harsh words, being chosen last for a game or broken hearts from love that isn't returned. But I know doing that will only handicap them. Of course, there are things I absolutely want to protect them from: pornography, child predators, drug use. The key is knowing where to draw the line.

The older they get, the more of life my little ones are exposed to and it's downright scary as a parent. But what would be even scarier is sending them out into the world without being equipped to handle the hard edges that are part of living in this world.

My prayer lately has been for wisdom to guide them and equip them with knowledge and the sense enough to back up when I need to. This parenting gig is a constant balance of holding close when necessary and letting go when it's time.