While I was a Stay-at-home-Mom to my two small children back in 2006, we were driving through town one sunny day in May. We come to an intersection near the Presbyterian Church, and were the first car stopped by a traffic cop. He was there helping a funeral procession to go by together, lights on and moving slowly.
My daughter is four years old at this time, precocious, wildly gifted in every witchy way, as many children are before muggle society squashes it out of them. Raising a wee witchling is a trip, especially one who is shockingly psychic. She was paying very close attention to the goings on at this traffic light from her car seat in the back, and drilling me with questions, as per four-year-old protocols.
What is that shiny long car? I explain that this is a funeral procession going by, and the hearse carried the casket, with the loved one who has died inside.
What is a (word meant to be casket?) A pretty, sealed box to hold their body for burial in the ground.
Why are all their lights on? So we all know they are driving to the graveyard; so we will stop in respect to let them go by together.
What is a graveyard? You’ve been to one with me before…remember the park with all the carved headstones we go to on Samhain to light incense for the spirits of people who are buried there?
What do you mean ‘barried’?
So I go back over the whole Christian burial procedure, which she calls “planting.” She takes in all this data, and asks calmly if my grandparents that died were planted. I tell her that Grandad Stormy was given a Christian burial like this one driving by, but Grandma Kat wanted to be cremated – her body released to the fires, and her ashes scattered.
Of course, this opens up another long line of questioning on different religions rituals and cultural practices, which I explain as gently and factually as I can on a little-kid level. I always try not to impose my own bias. All those anthropology classes in college came in pretty handy just then. My message was that funeral rituals are personal choices that the family should honor for their loved ones, out of respect for their wishes – and there are many religious choices.
When you die, do you want to be planted or burned up? she asked. I explain that ancient pagan cultures used both kinds of burial, but I’d like to be cremated when I cross the veil. Ok, she replies thoughtfully.
The funeral procession passes, and on we go about our day.
Gold fish CremationNot a week later, we awaken to a belly-up gold fish in the new aquarium she’d just received for her fourth birthday. Oh, no! LoveTruck died! (Yes, she named her goldfish LoveTruck, don’t ask me how she came up with that, but her fish’s names were always awesome.)
She takes his death in stride, reasonable witchling that she is. Honestly, she was rather excited about this new adventure in fish care-giving.
I ask if she’d like to help me flush him down the toilet. (You know, ye old water burial.) No, she says, We should put him in a box and plant him in the ground with a (head) stone.
No problem, I say. Then she remembers our conversation.
No Mommy, he wants to be burned all the way back to the Goddess. We have to (word meant to sound like cremate) him!
I ask if those are LoveTruck’s wishes. YES! She is emphatic that this is the burial ritual of his choice. Okie-dokie then. Who am I to question the religious preferences of a Goldfish?
So I dig through the wastepaper basket for a wax-coated cardboard box that a bar of soap came in. In goes the remains of LoveTruck. We fire up the patio fire pit, and I say a few kind words. My daughter did most of the talking, with a sweet conversation with his spirit about how he was a pretty fish and she hopes he’ll be happy with his (word that sounds like cremation) and come back to be her fish in another body someday. Then we placed his soapbox casket on the fire. It was the most touching goldfish cremation I’ve ever attended.
Waxed cardboard does not exactly burn, it sorts of melts and curls spookily as it chars. Also, dead fish are wet and don’t burn, they steam. Lessons learned. The good news is that four year old children, even the most precocious among them, have short attention spans, and she had already skipped off to play before the horrors of waxy steamed gold fish remains were eventually scattered in the woods behind our house, likely making a tasty meal for a passing raccoon. Ahhh, the circle of life.
Peace in the interim, LoveTruck. Thanks for the timely lessons.