Despite the tragic circumstance surrounding his demise (he thirsted to death in his cage), the Burial of Butters seemed, to me, af first, a jocular affair, ironic at the very least. Here we were – my parents, my sister, her two daughters (one the former “owner” of the little blond hamster, and hence, as I saw it, “the perp”) – gathered out in the side yard, back by the fence where all the other family pets were buried, solemnly laying to rest a fondly-remembered much-loved pet who – had he been this remembered and this loved in life, I couldn’t help but think – wouldn’t now be laying wrapped in a paper towel inside a cigar box.
No one else was joking, however. My dad – minister and grave digger – was somber and serious, and my mom – always careful with her grandchildren’s feelings, even the guilty ones – was kind and nurturing. My sister, who’d once killed a pet of her own in a similar manner and was most likely working through her own unresolved feelings of guilt, was making no attempt to hide her tears. My niece the chief mourner was putting on a brave face, but as soon as the first handful of dirt was thrown onto the box, the gravity of the situation – death, any death – impressed itself upon all of us, and there I was, suddenly sad about so many things at once: a dead hamster, the tragedy of life, funerals in general … and as I looked around at all these people I loved most in the world, I was overcome by a feeling of gratitude, that we were all, now, here in this moment together, and I was sad in advance for the time when this would no longer be the case.
I escaped to my room to put away my video camera and compose myself, grabbing a handful of Kleenex out of the bathroom on the way, and was soon joined by my niece, who laid herself sadly down on my bed. I busied myself with battery chargers and camera cases until I could speak without a shaking voice, then laid on the bed beside her and held her in my arms because I knew she wouldn’t have wanted to be alone. Slowly we began talking of happier things, the way she was when she was little, the funny things she said and did, and we eased out of the sadness, and my other niece came and joined us and it was nice, all of us in a pile together on the bed, heavy and light, happy to be there with each other, happy to all still be alive.