From the Editor
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Saying good-bye to Ed
By Susy Schultz
‘What can you say about Ed?” I asked the question to myself quietly, desperately as I searched for words. Then, I said it out loud to the graveside group.
We had finished the procession, the opening hymn and standing there before the newly turned earth, I was desperately trying to find the right words to show reverence and respect yet still be uplifting. I looked out at the gathering and saw my 4-year-old son standing solemnly with a tear in his eye. I had to be strong.
“Ed was a dear friend that touched our lives,” I began.
“When we think back on his life, we remember the good times. We know Ed was quiet, but he was also at home in a crowd. We also know that Ed was always searching for something and yet, he could never tell us exactly what it was.
“Ed was special, but Ed was not good at showing emotion. Then, few worms are.”
(At this point, smiles broke out among the crowd of lunching workers from the florescent light factory across the street. They had gathered near our backyard when my son started playing the guitar and he had motioned them to join us in the ceremony. To everyone’s credit, they did and when they found out just who Ed was, no one laughed. They were all parents.)
I continued: “Still, we hope Ed felt part of the family for the three weeks he was with us. Some may ask, ‘How can anyone love a worm?’ To them we would answer, ‘You’ve never met Ed.’ So, with the utmost respect for Ed, we send him back to the earth and wish him peace among his friends and colleagues down under.”
My son soberly and respectfully put the plastic Cool Whip container lined with tissue paper in the small hole we had dug in the back garden behind the tomato plants. My husband took the spoon and shoveled dirt over the homemade casket. I made a mental note to go back during Bryant’s nap, dig up Ed, reclaim the container for the recycling bin and give Ed to the tomatoes.
Somehow, entombing a worm in plastic to put him into the ground had made sense when I was looking into Bryant’s big sad eyes. It was something I could do to comfort him.
When Bryant had found Ed listless and unmoving—a state I thought was just Ed being Ed—Bryant had to kick me into high gear. I wasn’t paying attention. I was actually mad at the worm. OK, I was mad at the preschool for sending home this little heartache. I knew the chances of keeping the worm alive were not good. Why would those lovely people at the preschool be sending us a nightmare?
For a child, the emotional attachment to a pet can be intense. They don’t care whether it is a furry, four-legged friend who follows you everywhere and can actually return love, or a blind invertebrate that, while it has five pairs of hearts, will never be able to give one of them to a child.
I was sure Ed would not last through the first weekend and the first four years of my son’s life had been filled with too much death.
When Bryant was 4 months old, my father died. It was unexpected and, frankly, a poor call by God. During the next years, we lost great grandmother, grandpa, grandma, great aunt and a cousin.
Bryant knew about death and the rituals. When my mother-in-law died, it was Bryant who took my husband by the hand and lead him outside to say, “Don’t worry Daddy, Grandma is now a star in the sky.”
When he came back inside, Bryant asked, “When you rise up to be a star, do you take your legs with you or does your head just go up?”
Bryant loved Ed. This was his pet and in the face of a baby brother, it was an important love to have.
“Look at that, “ Byrant said one day. “Ed is happy.” I was a little tired and just blurted out, “How can you tell?” Bryant turned calmly to me and said, “He’s smiling.”
So, when Ed was in apparent distress, Bryant insisted I pay close attention. “This is serious Mom. Something is wrong.” I put his baby brother down and took a close look at the jar. I examined his head. Or was it his tail? It was brown and crusty, almost toasty. I’m not a vet, but even I knew this was not a good sign.
“I don’t know dear, I think you’re right, there is a problem,” I said, trying desperately to recall where I put the copy of Fred Rogers’ book, When a Pet Dies.
“He’s dead, Mom,” Bryant said. “Ed is dead. He needs a funeral. We have to plan it.”
I thought of all the funeral talk in the house: Didn’t we keep it to a minimum? Didn’t we talk of celebrating? Didn’t we talk about fun memories? I was amazed how much little people pick up. They just cut through everything and feel the important stuff. Bryant knew as much as any of us about death.
Ed’s funeral ended when Bryant began to strum his guitar, “Ed was a friend of mine.” He signaled me to join in on the song he was making up. “Ed was a friend of mine,” I repeated and watched his lips carefully, trying to follow, “A very, very, very good friend of mine.”
We marched in procession back to the kitchen, waved goodbye to our lunch friends as the factory whistle blew. And Bryant looked up, over his glasses, and said, “Now, does anyone want a drink?”