Death of a Sailfin

Daniel has a fish tank. He loves his fish–and clawed frog. I got it for him because I thought it would be a good idea for him to be responsible for something. My children can only have pets the can take care of.

Last night, I noticed one of his sailfin mollies was upside down at the bottom of the tank. Its gill covers were still moving, but moving fast, and I knew it would be dead by morning. So I told Daniel it was going to be dead. This was all right before bed, so after telling him this, I put him to bed.

That, of course, was not the end of it.

Daniel, to his mom: I want to bury it in the backyard.

Daniel, to me: Do you remember Episode One? I want to play the music they play when they burn Qui-Gon.

Daniel, to his mom: What happens to your body when you die?

His mom explained to him that the body turns to dust and that the soul goes to heaven.  About five minutes later, Daniel calls for me to come into his bedroom.

Daniel: Dad, if our bodies turn to dust, how are there fossils?

This, naturally, turned into a discussion of how fossils are formed through the mineral replacement of bones under the right conditions, and how those conditions are rare, so most bones do in fact turn to dust or dirt.

Daniel: Dad, what are bodies made out of?

This then turned into a listing of skin and bones, muscles and brain. I then pointed out that as we develop our brains, we develop our souls, meaning we need to behave well, do good things, not be rude, and learn a lot in order to develop our souls and become good people.

This morning, the fish was, of course, dead. I removed it from the tank and put it in a Zip-lock so it would be ready for burial this evening after school. Having been prepared for it, Daniel wasn’t at all upset.

Melina (his sister): Daniel, I’m sorry your molly died.

Daniel: Why are you sorry? You didn’t have anything to do with it. It’s just part of the life cycle.

Death and dying in the house of autism.


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