We lost one of our guinea pigs last night. Sherlock died of something called vestibular disease. Before we could get him to a vet, he was gone. It happened late at night, so I wrapped him up and moved him so we could tell the kids quietly today.
It is interesting to watch how two siblings handle grief in totally different ways. JD was very attached to Sherlock. We weren’t sure in the beginning how that would work, with him having Aspergers, but he really loved that little piggie. He showed a high level of ownership and responsibility when it came to caring for Sherlock. So the news has been extra rough on him. Today we’ve had anger–when he thought we hadn’t done enough to save him. We’ve had tears–as he saw him and realized he really was gone. And now we have total avoidance–he wants no mention of the situation anywhere around him, because he is afraid of having an anxiety attack. Any mention of the guinea pigs brings such pain to his eyes, that he shuts down and avoids the topic altogether.
On the other hand, LittleMissSunshine has been very open and talkative about the situation. The guinea pigs live in her room, so she knew when she got up this morning that something wasn’t right. She has been sad, with a few small tears. But the majority of her day has been spent trying to compose a proper eulogy for Sherlock, so that everyone at the funeral (and she has invited half the neighborhood) knows just how special Sherlock was. There’s a dash of preaching about heaven in her eulogy too. (I guess she was paying attention at both of her great-grandmothers’ funerals last month!)
While my son has dealt with his grief by avoiding it, my daughter has dealt with it by talking about it, and trying to teach others through it. It really does show how each of us are built differently, and that even within the same family everyone handles grief in different ways. I am a verbal processor like my daughter–I need to talk things through. (blogging, anyone?) Even more, I need to share what I know and have loved with others. It is clear that my daughter received that little bit of genetic code. And to some degree, I think my son did too, as he loves to teach and share what he loves. But when it comes to grief, he processes internally, the way my husband does. This has been a challenge for me as a Mom–I want to hold him, and help him let it all out. But that isn’t what he needs, and so I do my best to back off and let him have his space.
It really is amazing how much an animal can become a part of your family, even in such a short time. We’ve only had Sherlock and Watson since mid-January, and yet they are a vital part of the family. Even more, it has been wonderful to watch how Sherlock unlocked bits of my son that were hidden inside because of the Asperger’s. He has had such empathy for these animals, and we’ve seen that being extended out to others around him. We’ve also noticed that he has really been proactive in caring for Sherlock, often doing what needs to be done to care for him well before we ask. The best part has been his setting aside what he really wants and doing instead what Sherlock wants or needs. Even if it is just stopping playing video games for a few minutes so that Sherlock gets what he needs–that is a huge step forward for my son in day-to-day life responsibilities. Sherlock was a very gentle guinea pig, very sweet and friendly. He wasn’t loud or noisy, and he wasn’t very active most of the time, but he loved to be held and snuggled, and JD really responded to that. Sherlock was well loved, and will be missed.