Death has come to the Campbell Zoo.
The Zoo—my sister, the chief zookeeper, her husband, four teenagers (one who just got his learner’s permit), a ‘tween, three cats, two dogs and a fish named Two Tails—said goodbye last week to the fish.
The menagerie my sister manages has morphed over the years. Not all the teenagers are living with them since the Zoo moved to Nova Scotia three years ago, and the littlest member will soon hit a double-digit birthday.
They’ve added a couple of cats and Jake-the-dumb-dog along the way too. And last week, Angus the hamster came to live with them. The littlest member of the Zoo said she hadn’t slept in her own room since, because Angus, it seems, is a noisy nocturnal creature.
(She’s also been suffering with the World’s Largest Tonsils, and talks really fast, so I might have got that wrong.)
When the Zoo decided to relocate from the Lower Mainland to Nova Scotia, they fostered out Two Tails with a friend who lived nearby. They didn’t want him to become a snack for the two cats while travelling in a convoy across the country, and they were worried about the fish bowl spilling all over grandma, who offered to accompany the zoo as head trainer for the trip.
Truthfully, Two Tails had slipped all our minds over the years. Until last week, when Tiffany, the friend who was looking after him posted a simple obituary on Facebook: “RIP Two Tails. You were a good little fishie!”
I was surprised at how much that jolted me. More so the fact that I had forgotten about him, to be honest.
My sister was a little more circumspect. “He was my favourite,” she posted. (Also on Facebook.) “Never talked back, never threw his laundry on the floor, always made that adorable ‘fish face’ for me…yep, I’m gonna miss him too!”
The death of another goldfish in the Campbell Zoo many years ago served as a lesson to our entire family.
My father had died after a long illness, although rather suddenly at the end, and my mom, sister and I were meeting with a counsellor at the hospital. He wanted to know how we were doing, and how we were going to explain Dad’s death to my sister’s children. Especially to her youngest, who wasn’t quite three, and didn’t understand where Papa had gone and why she couldn’t see him anymore.
The counsellor asked whether my sister’s family had any pets, and whether any of the pets had died. Relating the death of a pet and how it was dealt with can often help a child understand when an adult in their life has died, he explained.
My sister looked at the counsellor and said, “Well, yes.” She struggled to keep a straight face.
“But it was a goldfish. How are we going to explain that Papa was too big to fit down the drain?”
There was a pause, and the look of shock that hit the counsellor’s face was priceless. We all cracked up.
“Your father would have loved that,” the counsellor said when he had recovered his composure.
It’s hard to believe it was seven years ago next week that we lost Dad. Humour got us through the grief, and it has kept his memory alive—even for the littlest member of the Campbell Zoo, who spent almost every day of her first three years with “Bumpa”.
She hears the stories we tell about Dad, and although most of her memories are likely of photographs of him, every once in awhile she says something that makes me smile to myself and think, “she remembers.”
Susan Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.