Saying Goodbye to Guido

By:  Staci Stallings

Three things to set the groundwork for this piece:  First, the majority of the info you are about to read came from a six-year-old drama king.  Second, said drama king started kindergarten last fall.  In their classroom they had a bearded dragon, which is pretty much a forearm length iguana (I know, reptile lovers will quibble, but I just want the non-reptile lovers to get a picture of this thing).  Third, I do NOT like reptiles of ANY kind–snakes, lizards, etc. give me the shivers.

This particular kindergarten “pet” definitely qualified as a reptile, so when I visited the classroom, I stayed well away from the tank it was in.  As a long-time friend of the teacher, we had several conversations about Guido the Bearded Dragon throughout the year.  Then last Sunday she told me that Guido was not doing well (you can imagine my reaction).  He was so weak that she was having to (brace yourself!) feed him baby food with a syringe because he was no longer eating on his own.  Guido had been a gift from a young lady who had had him a long time.  He was very old, and the teacher was worried that the end was near.

Sure enough, on Friday six-year-old drama king got into my van after school.  “Mom, it was the worst day of my whole life!”

“Why?  What happened?”

“Well, Mrs. Scott had to take Guido to the vet (at which I’m thinking Why would she do THAT? What could a vet do anyway?), but this morning we found Guido in the tank, and he wasn’t breathing anymore.”

Like a good mom, I was sympathetic.  “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, it was bad.  I had to get a box.”

“Really?”

“And Alyssa had to get a cloth.”

I’m now picturing this kindergarten class of 23 springing into action over the funeral preparations for a dead lizard.

“We got everything, and Mrs. Scott put him in the box.  Then Will took him out, and there was this BIG hole, and Will dropped the box and Guido into it.”

I don’t know something about this picture struck me as quite touchingly funny.  I know it shouldn’t, but, have you ever been so into picturing the story a six-year-old is telling that you just kind of get amazed at how perceptive and SERIOUS they are about life?

“So did the whole class go out for the funeral?”

“Uh-huh.  Everyone.”  (In their cute little church uniforms, 23 kindergartners standing around a hole in the ground, I’m quite sure that was quite a sight.)

“Did you say any prayers?”

“Mrs. Scott did.  She cried.”

“Did you sing any songs?”

“Well, the only song we all knew was ‘God Bless America,’ so we just sang that.”

(Go ahead, try not to laugh!  I was about to lose it.)

“Really?  Well, what about Father Waldo, did he come to the funeral?”

To which my precious little six-year-old drama king replied, “Mom, he dug the hole!”

Come to find out, I’m not sure all of that was exactly accurate, but that’s how it’s in my mind now, so I’ll leave it at that, and add just two more little pieces of this story.

First, upon talking with the teacher, I found out that they had a little wake service prior to the burial.  She took Guido out of the tank, put him on the cloth in the box, and set the box on a small table.  Then each child was allowed to go by the box.  She said, “Some chose to touch him, others didn’t, but they all got to say good-bye.  Then we took him out and buried him.”  She said, “I swore I wasn’t going to cry.  Father Waldo had given me a little prayer book to God bless the cats and dogs, and I added bearded dragon.  Then when I got to those words, I just cried and cried.”

My son, stood next to me as the teacher told the story, and he very solemnly nodded at each word.

“When it was all over,” she continued, “we came in and had a birthday party for one of the little girls, and we talked about celebrating life and how we celebrate it in different ways–sometimes with birthday parties and sometimes by saying good-bye to really good friends.”

I think those are very wise words to live by.  I just wish we did a bit more celebrating of life every day, in every way, with every person we meet.

Maybe then we would all feel as loved as Guido the Bearded Dragon was by a bunch of kindergarteners who learned a little about death and a lot about life that day.

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4 Responses to Saying Goodbye to Guido

  1. Kathleen L. Maher says:

    Staci, that was very touching, with just the right splash of humor. What a wonderful teacher your son has, and what a blessing to have his sensitivity fostered like that. Very nice story.

  2. Hilarious, Staci! I can see your son and I can see you biting your tongue to keep from laughing. Great post – thank you!

  3. Peg Phifer says:

    I agree. Kids that age are so impressionable. And I can quite easily picture that scene.

    And, btw, Staci, I am right with you about the whole anti-reptile thing. ::shudder::

  4. The teacher told me, “I thought about just doing it myself so I didn’t have to put the kids through that. Then I thought, What a teachable moment, and they deserve to get to say good-bye to their friend.” Smart teacher!

    I remember about 14 years ago, I subbed in a classroom in a high school. I just got the call and went, not really having thought about recent news reports of a young man from that school having a swimming accident over the weekend. Sure enough, that’s where everyone had gone. I was in a class with juniors & seniors. One girl said, “I wanted to go but Mom said I shouldn’t.” I asked her why her mom thought she shouldn’t go, and she said, “Because she thought I would be sad.”

    I have thought about that young lady many times since then. As parents it’s not our job to shield our kids from every heartache. In fact, that’s impossible. What we must learn to do and DO (by being a grown up ourselves) is to TEACH our children through the rough patches HOW to be, HOW to keep walking, HOW to be sad and angry and hurt but how to keep our arms open anyway.

    My brother died almost two years ago, and my son who was four at the time soaked all of it in. He knows about death; he knows about funerals. He’s been to many–my brother’s, our cats that have died, and now Guido’s. Death is no fun. But while I’m here, I want to do my best to show my kids how to be there for each other to be strong even when your sad and that it’s okay to be sad enough to cry and miss the one that’s now gone.

    My best friend recently moved from across our street into town. She had lived here my kids’ whole lives, and had even come to babysit my son every morning when I took my daughters to school. My kids were understandably sad (as was I). They didn’t want her to leave. My son was telling me one night how he was going to miss her and he didn’t want her to move. I said, “What you have to understand is that we’re lucky she was here with us when she was. It’s important to remember the time she was here, and to remember to enjoy the time the people that are here right now… are here because one day they won’t be.”

    It’s interesting to me how death refocuses our life if we let it and learn the lesson it has to teach us.

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