It never occurred to me that I was inviting death into our home as I stood in the pet store, waiting for the employee to retrieve the chosen one. Luke had dreamed of this moment for months. It was all he wanted for his birthday. He read the mommy-required reading on guinea pig care and practiced responsibility with our dog.
The tiny little orange runt of a guinea pig sat cradled in his arms as if it belonged there, while I filled out the pages and pages of contracts and forms–for a guinea pig.
For the next fifteen months, Luke’s first thought in the morning was for Ginger Nut, and I often had to rescue the pig from his bed at night. At all waking moments, the guinea pig wasn’t far from his side. Pure love.
What had we done?
I have to admit, about half way through the pig’s life, I began to worry about the ending. Luke was so attached, so in love. He would be devastated. How in the world could I prepare him?
A month ago, Ginger Nut’s eye went cloudy. Our family theory is that he poked it with some hay and went blind. He didn’t seem to mind too much and life adjusted to a half blind pig. Luke played with him as much as ever, but the eye never really healed.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. If it were you, you would have gone to the vet and spent over a thousand dollars on eye surgery for a guinea pig. I can’t say I didn’t think about it as my son’s eyes filled with tears and he prayed for healing of his precious pig. But a thousand dollars on a guinea pig was never going to happen. At least I had the decency to feel bad about that.
A week ago, Ginger Nut stopped eating. Luke has held him every day this week as we’ve talked about death and heaven and pets. I checked into euthanasia with the vet. $70.
Luke offered to pay it so that his little creature wouldn’t suffer anymore. Thankfully, he didn’t have to. Ginger Nut died this morning, and my son’s relief was a bandaid for his grief that I could never have predicted.
We all hate suffering. We hate to see our loved ones in pain. It’s horrible in animals too. Yet, as I watched my son’s first journey into death, I was astonished by how suffering prepared him to let go. The moment of release came with a wave of relief, and instead of the pain and shock that comes with sudden death, there was comfort that Ginger Nut is no longer in pain.
We all want to skip the process. We all want to jump to the end. Yet the process has value and it prepares you for the end.
I asked Luke if he wanted to pray for Ginger Nut as we buried him, but he looked at me dry-eyed and said,
“Why? He’s playing with Jesus now. He’s happy, and he doesn’t have any pain. We don’t have to pray anymore.”
Now, I know that this is ten-year-old theology, but it occurred to me that there is a reason that Jesus celebrated the faith of children. This is the lesson from Ginger Nut’s life: The process of death is a mercy, even though it feels like an agony. Every time Luke thinks of Ginger Nut, he is comforted that he isn’t in pain. He misses his friend. He still loves his friend, but he cried all of his tears beforehand. He cried while Ginger Nut suffered, not now that he’s free.
Luke survived his first loss with such grace that I’m left feeling amazed by his heart and thankful for the life of our tiny guinea pig. Ginger Nut brought so much joy with his life. He brought gratitude with his death, and I’m not sorry that we brought him home, loved him dearly, and that he isn’t in pain anymore.
We will miss him. We are grateful. And I am once again reminded of how God works all things for good to those who love him… even death, even the process of death.
If you think of Luke, pray for him. His heart is sad. He misses his friend. I’m so thankful that one day there will be no more suffering, no more pain, no more death, and that Luke’s guinea is free from pain now.
And I really hope God enjoys orange guinea pigs, because Luke just loaned him a good one, or maybe it was the other way around. Ginger Nut taught us more in his death than he did in his short life, but it will always be the joy of his life that we remember.