Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tiny Teacher

Alena the goldfish is finally free. On a warm spring evening, as the sweet scent of magnolia drifted in through open windows, and a lone songbird indulged one last melody to end his day, Alena moved on. After living with the burden of a large tumor which had caused her to go blind, her battle was over. This tiny being taught us many lessons during the time we were fortunate to have her with us; for one, she taught us resilience and determination to live in spite of hardhip.

About a year after she came to live with us, we noticed a small bump forming on the right side of her head. The growth became larger as time passed, but Alena seemed unaffected by it – she ate well and loved to swim around the fresh plants and rocks we placed in her aquarium. Then, one day I saw her lying motionless inside a decorative pirate skull, and I assumed she had passed away. When I touched her to remove her from the skull, she squirmed, and my heart rejoiced. It was a short moment of happiness, however, for when I finally got her out from the skull she was stuck into, she was in terrible conditions – trying to break free, she had rubbed off most of her skin and tail, and one of her eyes was bleeding. We thought she was going to die that day, and we did all we could to keep her as comfortable as possible during her transition. To our surprise, Alena survived, and in no time at all her skin and tail were repaired. Unfortunately, the tumor was cut open while she tried to get out of the skull, and from that day on it started growing at greater speed.

Alena lost her sight from the one eye close to the tumor, but she seemed to be doing well otherwise. She lived several more years, apparently unaware of the disease that was slowly destroying her tiny body, but a few weeks ago she became quite lethargic and sat still over top of one of the plants in her aquarium for a few days. Feeling confident that she was losing her battle and was by now in distress, I researched humane ways to euthanize her, but before we could decide on anything, Alena surprised us again by perking back up and acting normal. We felt relieved, and we enjoyed watching her swim around and eat as if nothing had happened.

Sadly, this last period of wellbeing was short lived. A few days ago, Alena began showing signs of distress again, and she refused to eat. Last evening she lay on her side at the bottom of the aquarium, and her small body became still. We waited for a while to make sure she was gone, then we gently scooped her up in a bowl and took her to a pond near our house where we laid her to rest. For most of her life, Alena was trapped in a body that didn’t work well, and her adventures were limited by the enclosure she was living in; now she was free from pain, and she could swim forever in a large pond. We all stood around and said goodbye, as one of my sons gently lay her motionless body in the water. At first, everyone was a bit sad, but grief was quickly replaced with joy, as we embraced the concept that Alena is happier now, and she no longer hurts. We all sat around for a while and talked about her passing. The kids all understood that in cases such as this, death is a portal to better living, and if we love her we have to be relieved and happy for her. Goodbye Alena...swim on, little buddy, and thank you for the silent lessons we will cherish forever.

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