Shirley enjoying one of her favorite dishes, carrots

It’s been a difficult week around here.  On Sunday night I noticed our little gerbil, Shirley (who you may have met a while back in my Meet the Family post), was acting lethargic and upon picking her up, I observed that she was pretty darned cold. I figured that her tiny old heart was finally giving out  — after all, she’d spent nearly 3 ½ hectic years busily gnawing, squeaking, and burrowing for seeds inside her aquarium. And often times, she did it while the rest of the world was sleeping. She was a tireless little girl…

As soon as I discovered  she was sick, I moved her to another cage (like any good rodent mom would) so her sister, Laverne, couldn’t  torment her. Then I made her an extra-fluffy bed, and placed a heating pad on a low heat setting underneath the cage to serve as an incubator. And don’t even say it…I know what some of you out there are thinking. “All of that? For a  rat?” Shirley wasn’t a rat. She was a lovely, refined gerbil. If you knew Shirley personally, you would have done the exact same thing.

My efforts to revive her were to no avail. The next morning when I went to check on her, I found that the little gal had passed during the night. Shirley’s body is now located within a Liberty check box inside of our garage freezer until she can be moved to her final resting place this spring.

We have been through the loss of pets before – other gerbils, a dog, a guinea pig, and countless fish so the experience wasn’t entirely new to me. When the kids were small, I followed the advice of experts: we’d cry together, have little funerals, talk about the pet, and the kids would create grave markers for the yard to mark the burial site. Not what I’d call fun stuff, but a learning experience, just the same.

And like all of the other times we’d lost pets before, even though the kids are older now, I was kind of afraid to tell Noah about Shirley. He’d gotten some bad news earlier in the day so I decided to wait until he noticed she was no longer inside of the cage and started asking questions. But Monday came and went and Noah never said a thing to me. In fact, I’m pretty sure he walked by the gerbil cage at least a dozen times and never even bothered to give it so much as a sideways glance.

Then Tuesday rolled on through. He still hadn’t noticed that Laverne was living solo inside the aquarium. When Stella came home from college the next day, I thought she’d for sure notice something was amiss. Nope. Nothin.’  Life was status quo around here: everyone just continued the usual activities of eating, sleeping, breathing, and rummaging through the fridge.

By Thursday, the kids were still clueless so I had to say something. Poor Shirley had been in the deep freeze for three solid days and no one even bothered to notice she was gone.

“I have some bad news about Shirley,” I said solemnly to Stella as she stood at the kitchen counter trying to fish a pickle out of a Vlasic jar.

When I said this,Stella’s head snapped up, then she slowly looked toward the gerbil cage. “Did she…?”

“Yes,” I sad sadly. “She passed early on Monday morning.” Stella’s face reddened and I could see she almost…almost started to cry.

Later that night I asked Noah if he had heard the news about Shirley. “Yeah,” Noah said indifferently. “I saw it on Stella’s Facebook page.”

Clearly my son wasn’t as broken up as I expected him to be. And to this day he probably still wouldn’t realize that Shirley had died if he hadn’t seen Stella’s Facebook status:

Shirley, you were the most precious, squeakiest gerbil in the world. I’ll miss you.

Meanwhile, we …or maybe I should say I (since I guess I’m the only one that really pays any attention to her) still have Laverne who is quite shaken up over the trauma of losing Shirley. She still scurries around her cage and dabbles in her normal hobbies (nibbling on empty toilet paper rolls and sunning herself in the plastic tubes) but I’ve noticed that her nose is going bald. And (sigh) of course, after doing some research I learned that since gerbils are extremely social animals, stress can be the culprit…probably the loss of her sister, in this case. I know that many people will try introducing a new friend to a surviving rodent, but since Laverne is about 143 in gerbil years, I don’t think that would be a wise decision.

I guess I can only hope that I am a good enough gerbil-keeper to figure out how to personally keep Laverne company and alleviate the stress of her loss. I may need to learn how to gnaw or burrow or chew little seeds… And since my TV show-watching partner, Stella, is back at school, I’m going to see if Laverne will watch “Dance Moms” or “Storage Wars” with me every now and then. Or maybe at the very least, I can figure out how to fashion a little rodent wig for Laverne her to wear until her hair grows back,. You know…in case she feels self-concious.

Once a mom, always a mom, I guess. To humans and the assorted animals that come my way. Maybe that just comes with the territory.

If you’ve lost a pet, how did you help your kids deal with it? How did you personally handle it?

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10 Responses to “We’ll Miss You Shirley…I Think”

  • Jean says:

    Aw Diane you are wonderful! You have such huge compassion for God’s creatures. Laverne is lucky to have you on her side. Pets are a good experience for kids, and unfortunately, the loss of them is part of the experience. It sounds like Noah and Stella are able to handle the loss without too much trauma, probably because of you. Good job Mom!

  • Diane says:

    Well, I don’t if it’s because of me or because the novelty of the little furry friends has worn off. But thanks, anyway. I’ll take a compliment any way I can get it. Well…almost any way.

  • SRM says:

    Awwww =( You did a good job taking care of Shirely’s last day. I sniffled. I hope that Laverne can bounce back. Give her a cuddle for me

    • Diane says:

      Thanks :) I’ll try but she’s pretty squirmy right now. Maybe I’ll just toss a Cheerio into her cage. That may take her mind off of her woes.

  • Oh Diane I’m sorry about your little gerbil…snicker! You can’t believe the animal crisis we are having at our house..It’s a long daughter is trying to get me to give in to getting a gerbil..We’re pretty much done with little animals.:) You are a very nice and funny Mommy:)

    • Diane says:

      Hate to tell you this, but you need to get two. They’re really social and do best with others because they get lonely (thus our bald Laverne). Two boys are best — they are the tamest and most settled. Honestly, they’re super easy pets and fun to watch. Ours never got loose (and the two or three times they ever did, they were too chicken to go anywhere). And and they’re so darned cute. If you want one rodent, go with a hamster because they’re loners. C’mon Shari Lynne!! Pleeeeeeeze????

  • Sandy Keith says:

    Diane, my backyard is so full of deceased pets that it is truly a Pet Cemetary. I can’t even recall the critters we have buried there in the 45 years we’ve lived in this house. When my kids were small, we’d have a funeral; once they were grown and out of the house, I’d bury them myself and cry the whole time. I even felt bad when I had to bury the birds or rabbits my cats had caught and which I’d not gotten away from them in time. I figure each of God’s creatures deserve a kind goodbye. After all, the Bible says that not even a sparrow falls to earth but what the Lord notices. The least I can do is give them a nice farewell.

    • Diane says:

      Awwww….I agree! I remember my dad talking about that part of the Bible, also! You are a very compassionate person. I’m sure your kids took a lot of those experiences with you and are the same way. We need more people like you in the world!

  • Kim says:

    We’ve never had little critters but have had goldfish pass on. I think it fell to me to dispose of them and I have to say, while the kids were sad, the first question was when can we get another one? I’m dreading when our doggies pass because that will be hard on everyone. They are like family members and as you watch them age, you just know it’s going to be difficult. You are a good mom to them and I’m sure Laverne is living a very happy rodent life! Esp. chomping cheerios and watching Dance Moms!

  • Diane says:

    Oh I know…dogs are indeed members of the family. Our lab died when she was 14 1/2 and we immediately got another dog because I am sooo used to having one or two around. I can’t imagine life with out our Annie right now and like you, am dreading that day.

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