A Funeral for Ginger

Zetta’s crested gecko, Ginger, died in mid-November. It was a horrible bedtime surprise as she was young. Two days before Zetta had held her as we unceremoniously emptied crickets into her cage from a plastic bag. We’d just upgraded her cage to the large one, because she’d grown and that girl loved to jump. And then, we were away a day and – suddenly, awfully – she was gone.

And yes, I am currently writing about this in January because the grieving process, left alone, is a meandering one. I’ve grieved people and pets aplenty, but not without having to pretend, to play-act my life. I wanted Zetta to feel however she wanted, and whenever. I didn’t ask; I held out my arms. I let her do all the talking.

Daily Zetta would check on Ginger’s body. At first, I know she was making sure the gecko was really dead. Not playing. Not just… napping weirdly. Once that was established, however, it became something else. She checked decomp speed and status – there’s no pleasant to say it. Geckos are kept in coconut fiber, which is sort-of self composting, and, luckily, there was zero odor involved. Still isn’t…for the record.

Zetta wore black every day for two weeks, even wearing a sign that said “don’t mess with me. my gecko died” to homeschool group one day. She wore black until she ran out of black and asked me, “Why don’t I have more black?” I loaned her a shirt.

She began crafting Ginger’s coffin a week later out of a blue, dual-tone eyeglasses case. It’s still not done. Every time I ask if she’s ready to add Ginger to her beautiful creation, she cries. So that dead gecko is still in her bedroom, awaiting burial.

To me, it’s equal parts sad and creepy. My husband is worried about germs. I’m just sad for my girl and her loss, trying to support her. I’m super glad she’s moved on from her 5-year-old process of asking people to pet her dead hamster in its cardboard coffin – there’s been none of that! – but from here, outside, it’s still excruciatingly slow. She doesn’t want her pet to be outside in the cold, even though she knows Ginger is dead. Will we wait until spring? I hate to think of it, mostly because I hate to think of explaining that to anyone outside our family. But Zetta talks about the other things the coffin needs before Ginger can go in. Pillows, more sparkly gems. She’s clearly not ready to let go.

We still talk about Ginger, often in the darkness of bedtime. I wonder if Zetta will one day tell her therapist about this dead pet I let her keep for so long, if she’ll need to find a way to speed closure and blame me for the early onset of her slow deliberation in grieving. I wonder if she’ll keep me in her room as long as possible when I go. Who knows? I might be grateful.

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