Holding an impromptu funeral for a hamster wasn't exactly something I had in mind for the weekend when I got up on Saturday morning, but alas, poor Hamish, he is no more. He is an ex-hamster. He has shuffled off this mortal coil. Expired. Demised. Gone to meet his maker...
Poor wee Hamish.
As much as my 90-year-old nan has anticipated otherwise for a long while now – she's been saying things like, "Of course, I shall be dead soon," for the last twenty years or so now – up until Hamish's passing the kids hadn't really had to deal with death themselves (beyond a goldfish). It's something we've talked about, as you do with your kids, and it's something that Rosie in particular likes to talk about every now and then because the concept of not existing anymore is fascinating to her. Tom, on the other hand, has something of a shit happens kind of attitude towards death, and if he has any deep thoughts about it then he tends to chew them over himself late at night.
Rosie takes it quite personally that Tom got to meet my granddad (who I called "Poppy") before he died, even though Tom was only a baby at the time and doesn't remember anything. But as far as Rosie's concerned, Tom has had something that she hasn't, and that's not fair. In processing these feelings, spurred on by recent events and Samhainn just gone, Rosie snuck a poppy home on Monday –one she'd made at school as part of their Armistice Day topic for the day. She made it specially, dedicated "To Poppy, From Rosie."
But alas, poor Hamish. Tom was out with a friend at the time of our discovery, and Mr Seren was working so it was just me and Rosie when we found him. We'd taken the dogs out and stopped off at the rope swings in the woods to make up for the fact that she hadn't been invited to the cinema with Tom (something she also took quite personally), and on our way back Rosie asked if we could get the hamster out for a spin in his exercise ball. Upon our return, we went to his cage to get him out and found him tucked up snug but lifeless in his wee house. I'm guessing he died in his sleep, so there are worse ways to go I suppose.
There were tears and denials at first. There were gentle goodbyes and tender scritches behind his lifeless ears. I cleaned out the cage and found a wee box to put him in, and then after Tom got home and Rosie broke the news to her brother, we went into the garden and laid Hamish to rest. It took some persuading to convince Rosie that we needed to do something with him – she didn't want to face saying goodbye at first – but eventually she agreed that we could bury him. While I dug the hole between the rowan tree and the ancestor's cairn in the flower bed (which I built just after we moved here), Rosie hugged the little box protectively and chattered nervously. Tom...basically avoided acknowledging the situation and played with Mungo as if nothing extraordinary was going on. He was a good hamster, and it's sad, said Tom. And that was about the end of it as far as he was concerned. Outwardly, anyway.
Rosie insisted that she should do the honours and lay her little friend to rest, so once the hole was ready she put him gently in it and said goodbye, and talked about what a good hamster he was. He'd always poke his head out of his wee house when we sat down for dinner, and he'd always come out or go in to his house through the window instead of the door for no apparent reason. He preferred climbing everywhere instead of using the tunnels. He liked to terrorise Mungo, who jumped on the sofa every time he saw Hamish's ball heading towards him, and would whimper pathetically until the ball went away. He liked to run through a see-saw, over and over again, when he had a run around in his play pen. He was indeed a Good Hamster.
We covered him over with soil (and a brick, just to make sure the dogs or foxes don't go digging), and I said some words too, and then we went back inside to the warmth for hugs and snuggles and looking at pictures of Hamish. The kids were both a little quiet but seemed to be processing things; Rosie decided she was happy that he was buried in the garden, because now he can make friends with the worms, and they're good for the soil so Hamish must be too, and she can go out and say hello every now and then and check he's OK. He won't be lonely, and that's the main thing.
Late last night, as I was attempting to wrangle some cake decorating, a butterfly began flying around the kitchen. I've no idea where it came from or how it got into the house but there it was, a small tortoiseshell fluttering around the kitchen at gone 11pm on a November Tuesday, hovering around the sideboard where Hamish's cage used to sit. In Irish belief, a butterfly is often said to be the soul of someone who's returned to the place or people they loved. Maybe that applies to hamster souls as well as people...