My child adored her guinea pigs. We started off with two girls, and after one ran off, we got another, which we were assured was also a girl. Turns out, he wasn’t. They had babies. After one of the boys found his way into the pen holding the girls, we ended up with quite a few newborns. My daughter adored them all, and they lovingly received individual attention. Yesterday morning, my daughter’s father came in with some dreadful news. The mother and baby guinea pigs had been killed during the night, their sturdy pen overturned. My heart sank. I felt confusion, anger and deep pain. He had tears in his eyes after the dreadful cleanup he had to do. Our little girl watched cartoons, unaware. How on earth would I tell her?
I went into denial. Certain rituals had to unfold before I could face this. Coffee, a shower, a lifetime. I was the buffer between my child and tragedy. She made her way to the back door. “I want to see my little ones.” Her daddy was out there in tears, cleaning up. “Come and watch tv,” I said, before taking myself to the shower and crying. We had a drink at a shopping centre, had an eye test and met friends at the park. My daughter remarked to our friends, “I cant wait to get home and see my babies.” We all looked at each other. I found a session for a kid’s movie, and we hurried along to see it. I sat throughout it, knowing that the time was coming. I could hardly bear it. I wanted to be her shield from pain, and keep her safe. As we left the cinema, she asked, “are my guinea pigs in heaven?” “My darling, they are, I am so sorry.” She nodded grimly and walked in silence. We parked out the front, as I didn’t want her to have to see the empty pen. We hugged and talked about the guinea pigs. She asked what I did when I found out. “I cried,” I whispered. It looks like a wily fox got to them. They are a cunning animal, and forceful.
Here I was, stalling for time, putting off breaking the news, and she already knew. My perceptive, sensitive child already knew. I was able to be her strength by showing her my vulnerabilities. I was able to be her balm by holding her close as she drifted to sleep. I underestimated both her ability to cope and mine. We are grieving, but are united in our sorrow.