Oh nooooo, our pet died and the kids are taking it very, uhhh, weirdly

So I’m giving Holden a bath the other night when suddenly I hear Zoey screaming bloody murder from the other room. I can’t tell you how many times this happens in our house on a daily basis. Because she stubs her toe, or she can’t fix her pants that are inside-out, or she finds one of her stuffed animals in Holden’s room and claims he stole it. There are like a million reasons she’ll start screaming like she’s being chased through the woods by an axe murderer wearing a hockey mask. So I patiently finish washing the shampoo out of Holden’s hair and then I slowwwwly get up to go see what’s wrong.

ME: What’s wrong Zoey?

Awwwww shit, I see immediately why she’s screaming. She’s standing over her guinea pigs’ cage and there he is. Darth Vader. Lying on his side with his eyes half closed. Ruh-rohhhh, guinea pigs do not lie on their side.

So I remain calm (total lie, I’m freaking out and screaming for my husband) and I guide Zoey away from the guinea pig into our bedroom to try to console her. She’s bawling and I’m putting my arms around her while she’s sobbing.

ZOEY: Whhyyyyyyyy did this happen??!!!!!!

ME: I don’t know, honey.

ZOEY: But they’re supposed to live 3-5 years!!!!

ME: He must have been sick or something.

ZOEY: I’m a terrible mom!!! I didn’t even notice my child was sick!!!

ME: No honey, there was no way for you to know. 

ZOEY: But why did Holden have to die?!!!!!

ME: Holden????

ZOEY: That’s what I changed his name to last week. He’s Holden, and the other one is Trevor (that’s one of Holden’s best friends).

ME: Ummmm, okayyyy. I didn’t know.

So I let her cry for a while longer while I go get a shoebox for my hubby to put Darth-Holden in.

ME: Here’s a box to put him in.

HUBBY: Are you sure he’s dead?

ME: (gestures to the lying down guinea pig) Uhhh, seriously?

But my hubby isn’t convinced so he puts a plastic bag on his hand and pokes it just to make sure. How hilarious would it be if the guinea pig jumped up and said “boo?!” But alas, nope. Darth-Holden is stiff as a board. And then Zoey walks into the room while we’re “taking care” of him.

ZOEY: (sniffling) We have to make the box nicer.

ME: Sure, honey, whatever you want.

So we fill the shoebox with some of the guinea pig bedding and gently lie the guinea pig on top of it and then Zoey finds a little doll blanket and tucks the guinea pig in.

ZOEY: Oh, and Mom, can you get a flower for it?

ME: Sure, honey. 

I have to admit, his little makeshift “coffin” looks pretty nice for a resting place.

And then we hear Holden yelling from the bathtub (Because yes he’s been sitting in there turning into a prune this whole time and we kind of forgot about him. Whoopsie).

HOLDEN: Why is Zoey crying?!

So Zoey carries the box into the bathroom to show him.



ZOEY: Look, Holden. 

HOLDEN: Is he dead?!!

ZOEY: (somber) Yes, buddy. Holden died.

Okay, this is getting a little F’ed up. My daughter is showing buck-naked Holden her dead guinea pig named Holden. Ummm.

HUBBY: Zoey, do you want to say a few words?

She does.


ZOEY: I’m going to miss you so much, Holden. I named you Holden because you were my favorite and you had all of the special characteristic traits that my brother has.

Holden of course is beaming ear-to-ear hearing this eulogy and doesn’t look remorseful whatsoever. And when Zoey’s done speaking, my husband takes the box from her, and she asks if she can facetime her friend Hannah and tell her the bad news.

ME: Of course you can, sweetie, whatever you want.

And I should probably warn Hannah’s mom that she’s about to get a facetime call about a dead guinea pig, but it all happens very quickly and before I even have a chance the girls are looking at each other through the phone.

ZOEY: (dramatic) Hannah, guess what?


ZOEY: (in her most somber voice ever) Holden died.


OMG, did she seriously just tell them Holden died?!! So I’m screaming in the background.

ME: No, not Holden!!!!!!! Darth Vader! The guinea pig!!!!

HANNAH: Ohhhhh, Holden the guinea pig died.

ZOEY: Yes, Holden died and now Trevor is so sad and lonely.

FYI, I look at Trevor the guinea pig and he’s running around in circles at lightening speed like he’s having the best time ever and doesn’t have a clue his brother died.

So Zoey talks to Hannah for a while and when she gets off the phone, she seems a lot calmer.

ZOEY: I feel a little better after talking to Hannah.

ME: I’m so glad, honey. It’s important to lean on your friends when bad stuff happens. But we can’t keep calling the guinea pig Holden.

ZOEY: Mom, that’s his name.

ME: But it’s confusing saying “Holden died” because of Holden Holden.

ZOEY: Fine, I guess when guinea pigs die we can call them by their nicknames. Milky Way died.

ME: Who (the F) is Milky Way?

ZOEY: Hellllloooo, my dead guinea pig.

ME: I thought his name was Darth Vader.

ZOEY: It was. And then I changed it to Milky Way. And then Holden. And now it’s Milky Way again. 

ME: Oh, good to know.

ZOEY: Hey Dad, where did you put Milky Way?!!

HUBBY: Ummmmm.

ZOEY: Where did you put him?!

HUBBY: Uhhhhh.

ZOEY: Daaaaad?!

HUBBY: (cough cough) in the garage.

ZOEY: WHERE in the garage? In the TRASH?!!!!!!

HUBBY: (sheepish look)

ZOEY: (sigh) Okay. At least he’s in a nice box.

And the next day Zoey went to school and she randomly had to bring a bunch of stuff in for science class like plastic cups and aluminum foil and a cardboard box. And when she walked into school, she was holding the box and announced…

ZOEY: Guys, I have to tell you something. My guinea pig died.

And all the kids took a small step backward.

THE KIDS: Is he in the box?

Bwhahahahahahaha. He was not. Thankfully. Because you never know.

And that was that. I was always worried about losing one of our pets. I mean sure I’d talk a big game and say I can’t wait for these rodents who poop and stink to go, but it wasn’t entirely true. I would never want Zoey to have to deal with the sadness of losing her furry little guys. But honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I feared. She was sad, she grieved for about fifteen minutes, and then she said a nice goodbye. And she learned how to deal with death on a very small basis, which might help one day when she has to deal with it on a larger basis. 

R.I.P. Darth Vader Milky Way Holden Milky Way


We will miss you.

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There are 10 comments for this article
  1. NC at 10:20 am

    We’re non-religious, lightly spiritual (basically we’re atheists who like the idea of spirituality) so whenever we discussed death with our children we didn’t have heaven to comfort them with so I was pretty concerned about the first “major” deaths in our family. This summer my husband’s grandmother, my grandfather, and our fish all died within a month of each other. And I thought my kids (3 and 6) would be devastated. But I guess we’d really done a good job prepping them because they were absolutely fine. So fine that I tried to hide my own profound grief because it felt like I was the only one grieving. It’s strangely both gratifying and hideously painful for your children to discuss the end of their great grandfather’s life cycle (just like the book we’d read in preparation!). The fish was just the punctuation to a bad month but they literally saluted the toilet as she was flushed away. You never know what’s really going on in the mind of another person, much less a child so they might be grieving in private but it sure doesn’t seem that way!

  2. Andie's Mommy at 10:37 am

    I’m so sorry about Darth Vader Milky Way Holden Milky Way. It’s so sad when we lose a pet. We lost one of our kitties 4 years ago, when my daughter was almost 4. It was very sudden and I was heartbroken (I had him from the time he was 5 weeks old and he was close to 17). When I picked my daughter up from preschool and told her, she lost it. She was screaming and crying like I’d never heard before. It made my heart break a little bit more. Later that night she asked if we could make a memorial for him, which she still has in her room. I will say, though (and has crazy as this sounds), losing Midnight really helped us prepare her for her Grandpa’s death 5 months later from cancer. We did a lot of talking about both Midnight and Papa during that time. When Papa passed, she cried and was extremely sad, but also said she knew Midnight was waiting for Papa and was going to be with him forever. It’s still brings tears to my eyes and can hear her little voice talking about the 2 of them playing together and no longer in pain. I’m glad that Zoey was able to express her feelings about losing her guinea!

  3. Adesta Roberts at 10:43 am

    Awww….poor Zoey. Losing a pet sucks big time, especially for a child. I’m glad she was able to mourn Darth Vader Milky Way Holden Milky Way

  4. Tina Mancino at 10:59 am

    Do you plan on getting trevor another friend? I know you know Guinea pigs are not solitary animals. Hopefully there was nothing contagious that caused milky way to die.

  5. Emily at 11:13 am

    A couple of years ago my son (7 at the time) comes in the house from feeding the 2 rabbits. He’s giggling and goes “mom, Chip is doing the funniest thing. He laying down and just staring at me.” Instantly, I looked at me husband and was like “oh crap”. I went and verified and then had to explain the the bunny was in fact dead. That was his first experience with animal death. We currently have two Guinea Pigs and one rabbit. I’m not looking forward to the next one going.

  6. Mary at 11:23 am

    My son named his hamster “Aimee” after his best friend. I was leaving early one morning to take the other son on a field trip, went in to give my son a kiss goodbye, noticed that Aimee was dead. Left my husband a note — Be extra nice to Mark, Aimee died during the night. p.s. take care of Aimee — fortunately my husband remembered that Aimee was the hamster and didn’t freak out about our son’s best friend.

  7. Renata at 11:34 am

    Aww, sorry about Darth Vader/Milky Way/Guinea Pig Holden. I JUST listened to a pod cast yesterday about how kids start to learn how to deal with grief as adults when they lose childhood pets, so yeah it’s an important life lesson that will help grown-up Zoey deal with deaths.
    Thanks for sharing!

  8. brokenwingstryingtohealKim at 12:50 pm

    Tell Zoey I am sorry for her loss. I found it cute about the name changes. Our youngest son (now 30) had a gerbil who went through several name changes as well. Nibbles, tickles, Harry, and several others I cannot recall now. When that gerbil died it was the worst. The first death, (other than fish he did not consider pets) he had to deal with. We had to have a full funeral with burial and prayers. He was so upset. I didn’t think we would ever get another pet. However a few years later we got our German Shepards and all was fine.

  9. Crystal Hamaker at 3:06 pm

    My 14 year old daughter came in the house on Thanksgiving night 2017, she instinctively knew something wasn’t right, she went to her guinea pig Chibs’ cage and said “mommy I think Chibs is dying.” I was kinda doubtful, a) he was fine when we left earlier in the day b) how can you tell that he’s dying sweetie? But one look at him and it was obvious he was seriously ill. My 14 year old daughter held that guinea pig for hours that night; she talked to him and reminded him of all her favorite things they’d done together, she sang him songs, she whispered things that will forever be just between them. I was losing it, just bawling. I told her “honey you don’t have to hold him if it’s too hard for you.” She replied “I don’t want him to be alone when he dies mommy.” She held him until he took his last breath.

    Chibs was ancient in terms of guineas; he was over 7 years old. But I started thinking back and realized he had come into her life not long after my mom died. She was extremely close to my mother. I remembered that I was; actually STILL am distraught that I left the hospital the night my mother died. I was supposed to be with her, that was always the plan. I’d be with her when she died. But my mommy sent me home because I hadn’t slept in over 72 hours and she WAS doing better when I left…

    I realized that my daughter was obviously very affected by not only her own grief in losing her “Gammy” but also at my devestation of not being with her. So yes I do think while it may seem like it isn’t affected our kids, or that they are dealing really well with it; you may find just how important it was in her life years from now. 😊

  10. Rebekah at 6:25 pm

    At least she didn’t accidentally kill it, like my daughter killed her hamster when she was 3. Poor thing…just squeezed too tight, like Lenny..
    But seriously- nice job Momma!

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