Archive for February, 2012

Funeral Rites

Years ago our daughter Mary became the proud and happy owner of two gerbils. She named them Cookie and Brownie.  Even though the “shelf life” of gerbils is about eighteen months, Cookie and Brownie triumphed over the pet store statistics.  Cookie lived to be about two and a half years old, while Brownie made it past four years.  These gerbils were tame enough that they climbed up and down Mary’s arm, and around her bed when taken out of their cage.  They co-existed with our cats, even though Edward terrorized them by sleeping on top of their cage and once had to be forced to release a stolen gerbil out of his mouth.

When Cookie died, it was a sad day; sad most of all for Mary who came to me, sobbing, and placed a lifeless—but still warm—Cookie in my hand.  There was no doubt that we had to conduct a funeral for this small, well-loved rodent.

Our family gathered around the hole Will had dug in the ground.  Cookie was placed in a small box which Mary had decorated.  We put the little gerbil casket down into the hole, and covered it with dirt.  Then one of us read from Psalm 104, Mary gave a little eulogy about what a good gerbil Cookie was, we said the Lord’s Prayer, and then sang “All Creatures Great and Small.”  It was as lovely a graveside service as any gerbil could want.

When Brownie died, we also had a little funeral service, not as memorable, much briefer—probably because the weather was colder when she died.  Then Mary bought two more gerbils, which is when we learned that pet store people do not know how to tell the gender of a gerbil.  The two little girl gerbils turned out to be a boy and a girl, and in case you are wondering, the gestational period for gerbils is every 25 days. So in less than two months, we had a total of 17 gerbils.  We had to separate the male gerbils from the female gerbils, placing them in separate cages to avoid further reproduction, and then separate them even further because one of the gerbils was born angry or crazy and would attack the other gerbils, thus necessitating her own cage.  We put the original pair of gerbils in their own cage, having had the male gerbil neutered (now that’s a story unto itself!).  Our front hallway was lined with gerbil cages; our evenings will filled with the sound of nocturnal rodents, chewing and skittering in their cages.

Unlike the original pair, these gerbils were not hardy.  Despite our best efforts, about every week we’d find a dead gerbil in one of the cages.  The very last gerbil died on the day we were hosting a party. Moments before our guests were scheduled to arrive, the children discovered the lifeless gerbil body, and I instructed them to put the entire cage in the garage where the temperature was cold and the body would “keep” until we could tend to it.  Later, after all the guests had gone, we retrieved the gerbil’s body.  The elaborate funeral rites once held for Cookie had now morphed into a less elaborate rite of wrapping the dead gerbil in a paper towel, placing it in a plastic bag, and putting it in the dumpster.  No scripture, no prayer, no hymn.

Still—and you probably won’t find this in Calvin’s Institutes or Barth’s Dogmatics—I believe that whatever or whoever God created goes back to be with God.  No, I can’t quote you a scripture to back up that statement.  But whether we are burying an animal or a human, and however we are burying an animal or a human–that bit of creation returns to its Maker, and is welcomed home by its Creator.  Regardless of the type of funeral rites,  “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful—the Lord God made them all!”



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