Six Inches Under

A hamster’s demise

Source: National Geographic

It was bad timing when my teddy bear hamster passed away.

I sensed it was Coy’s last night on earth when his usual frenetic movements became exaggeratedly slow. I watched him through the side of his glass cage, smiling down at him like a mother who loves her child with all her heart and fights to remain positive for his sake despite knowing he isn’t well.

Dad had made pasta for dinner, and I placed a piece of tomato sauce-topped rigatoni before Coy. He sat up on his haunches, gently pulling the noodle upright between his paws, and began to nibble it with his eyes half-closed. It took him a long time to finish the meal. I continued monitoring him as he wobbled into his bed, curled up amongst the cotton fluff, and went to sleep.

In the morning, the first thing I did was check on Coy. I gently stroked his soft, golden fur, and felt that his body was cold and lifeless. I was grateful he had gotten to enjoy one last tasty morsel before passing away.

I had expected to bury Coy beneath the cherry tree in the back yard at our family’s former house, a rental property in a different town. Each spring, the tree blossomed in a gorgeous display of nature at its finest. I couldn’t picture a more ideal spot for a grave, where fresh bouquets of pale pink blossoms would be deposited.

Burying Coy outside our new house wasn’t an option. My younger sister, having interred her own deceased hamster a few weeks earlier, was traumatized the next morning to find that a scavenger had exhumed the tiny corpse, and likely eaten it for a midnight snack. I was adamant that my precious pet be laid to rest in the peaceful spot I had preselected for him, which presented a significant challenge given that we no longer lived there.

“Just put him in the garbage can,” Mom suggested.

“No!” I squealed. “He’s going to get a proper burial.”

As the only person with transportation who could be convinced to help me achieve my goal, I set about pleading with my older sister Karina. I had Coy nestled inside his bed-turned-coffin and a shovel ready for the journey, I said. It would be a quick in-and-out job, I assured my sister.

After school, we loaded the miniature coffin and shovel into the back seat of Karina’s burgundy Beetle and set out to accomplish the task. To my horror, the floodlights above the garage at the rental property were on, which implied there were new occupants. My hopes were dashed as we passed without stopping.

Karina, sensing my despair, assured me we would try again the following day. With the coffin and shovel still sitting in her car, she drove us to the old house again twenty-four hours later. When we found the outside lights still on, we returned home defeated once more.

The following afternoon, I asked Karina if we were going to do a third drive-by. She surprised me by saying she’d already gone to our old house directly after school. Deciding that enough was enough, she’d dashed into the back yard with the coffin and shovel in hand, quickly buried Coy beneath the cherry tree, then sped off before anyone could have the chance to ask her what on earth she was doing.

The risk my sister took on my behalf was heartwarming. No one had ever before made so great a sacrifice for me. Karina had given me the gift of closure, and through her kind gesture lightened my grief.