The Tenth Good Thing about Crystal or What NOT to do When a Pet Dies

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers' Center

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers’ Center

By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard

I am officially the world’s worst parent.

It hasn’t always been the case and there is hope that redemption will come, but meanwhile I wear the gray badge of failed parenthood. A badge which was remarkably easy to earn.

Hannah’s pet frog died while the kids were at school. Since after school sports and parents’ Back to School Night would prevent me from sitting still long enough to talk to Hannah compassionately about death, I scooped Crystal from the terrarium, wrapped her gently in paper towels and tucked her into a small box for safe keeping. Just until after school the next day when I planned to sit down with Hannah and have THE TALK.

But. The next day we hosted an out of town guest and I had airport duty. And the day after that my mom needed help moving some boxes and before I knew it, Saturday had arrived and Hannah called down the stairs, “Mom? I can’t find Crystal!”

I assembled the minions in the living room and told them as gently as possible that Crystal had died. “But where is she?” Hannah asked. My answer that Crystal was probably in Frog Heaven got a snort from my teenager and a follow up question from my ever discerning tween who asked, “What about the body?”

My eyes flitted to the counter where I’d secreted away Crystal’s remains. Before I could protest Chris was off the couch and holding the makeshift casket. The other kids clamored around him, asking to see the body. I weighed the therapeutic values and risks of showing Hannah the body. I figured it might help her to see how peaceful all things look in death, so that when she faced the inevitable loss of a human loved one, it wouldn’t be such a shock. I did not for a second think about how much time had passed since Crystal’s demise. Even if I had, I never would have predicted power of paper towels to completely mummify an amphibian. I unwrapped Crystal from her shroud and showed my children something that looked more like a Muppet version of King Tut than a frog.

After the shrieking and the crying Hannah finally asked if that’s what Cookie Grandma (who died when Hannah was very little) looked like now. Then her eyes grew wide and she asked, “When I die will my skin shrink off like that?”

We had a loooooong talk and a very formal funeral (which required all of us to don our Sunday best). Then I loaded everyone into the van and drove to the place that has helped me heal from so many of life’s shocks: Dairy Queen.

Since then I’ve invested in a few good books in case Hannah’s other pet, a beta named Nick, should go belly up. My favorite is The Tenth Good Thing About Barney because of Judith Viorst’s warmth and humor.

thetenthgoodthingTitleThe Tenth Good Thing About Barney
Author: Judith Viorst
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 5 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

My favorite book about losing a pet. The child is encouraged to cope with loss through remembering the things about Barney that made him so lovable.


illalwaysloveyouTitle: I’ll Always Love You
Author: Hans Wilhelm
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Sweet illustrations. Helps young children understand that love doesn’t stop when someone dies.

what's heavenTitle: What’s Heaven?
Author: Maria Shriver and Sandra Speidel
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 5 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Helps explain the mystery of Heaven in a way that is not specific to a religion.

when a pet diesTitle: When a Pet Dies
Author: Fred Rogers (MISTER ROGERS)
Genre: Nonfiction picture book
Ages: Listening 5 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up.

Anyone who ever watched Mister Rogers knows how caring and thoughtful Fred Rogers was. His background in child development is evident in this developmentally appropriate handling of death.

2 Comments to “The Tenth Good Thing about Crystal or What NOT to do When a Pet Dies”

  1. Thanks Kathy for sharing this teachable moment. It was nice that you had a ceremony for Crystal. This probably helped Hannah feel better about loosing Crystal.

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