Monday, September 14, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Bunny

If all goes according to plan I will be saying goodbye to our bunny this week. It is not a rash decision. We have kicked the idea around for over a year now. But the final snuggle and the last stroke of his soft grey fur will be difficult and maybe even emotional. Because somehow Thumper is my bunny as much as he is my kids’.

We first saw him in a cardboard box in the corner of a pet store in Utah. He and his siblings were being stored there until the owner could find an appropriate cage for them in the store. We were frequent visitors to this pet store because of our history with hamsters. Boy, did we have a history with hamsters.

It all started when Isaac was about six. He really, really, really wanted a pet. Being the Dr. Doolittle of our family I had no doubt about his intentions. We were not ready for a big animal like a dog or cat so we settled on a hamster. My sisters and I had had hamsters when we were growing up and they seemed pretty tame and low maintenance. What I had not taken into account was the emotional factor.

Somehow I had forgotten about the frequent hamster funerals that had taken place in my childhood back yard. Mound after mound of dirt clumps marked the final resting places of many of our dearly loved pets. My oldest sister still recalls the intense grief she felt when her first hamster died, over thirty years ago.

But in the early days of our new pet ownership we saw no death on the horizon. Only a cute fuzzy little guy who rode around on Isaac’s shoulder. He was appropriately named “G.H.”, which stood for ‘great hamster’. He roamed in the yard with Isaac close behind, was tucked into Isaac’s pocket as he rode his bike. It was a match made in heaven. Until heaven came calling.

As with most hamster deaths, I would imagine, G.H. left us quickly. One day he was alive, the next he was not. It was my middle boy’s first experience with grief. This little creature had truly become his best friend. It seemed unimaginable that he was suddenly gone.

We found a small box and wrapped him gently in soft paper towels before tucking him in and taping it shut. A short drive later we were standing at the foot of a beautiful mountain, picking a perfect resting place. We all took turns digging the shallow hole and we all said a few words about G.H. before he was placed in the ground. Even with the act of burying him, he was not truly gone. We talked about him every day and on particularly vulnerable nights when he was beyond tired, my boy would cry for his friend, sobbing only, “I miss G.H.!”

So we did what every other parent does in such situations. We went to the pet store and got another hamster. It was a good hamster, but no one could measure up to G.H., the greatest hamster. And before we could even get to know this new little guy, he was gone too. Soon buried in a shallow grave next to his predecessor. We continued this pattern for several months. Buy hamster, fall in love with him, bury him. It was getting to be a bit much for my tender hearted boy’s heart to take.

So the day we found Thumper we were at the pet store looking for a new kind of pet. We needed one with a longer shelf life than a hamster. A rabbit-it seemed to be just the right pick. Rugged enough to live a while, maybe even years, and still small enough to play with and snuggle.

We picked the cutest one and Isaac held him all the way home. At first he lived in a clean plastic tub in my office. I was working on the computer a lot in those days and most afternoons you could find me hacking away at the keyboard, tiny grey fluff tucked on top of my shoulder, nuzzling my neck. He fit in the palm of my hand when we first got him. It was easy to carry him around the house. Soon he outgrew the plastic tub and we shelled out the big bucks for a real cage, which was tucked in the laundry room. Thumper and I saw each other every day and I could not walk by his little jail cell without stopping to pet his soft fur.

Isaac, of course, fell in love with him and showed him off to the neighbor kids often. He was as tame as the hamsters since he’d spent the first months of his life hanging out on my neck. Easter rolled around and we took pictures of our own real live Easter Bunny. We even hauled him along when we moved across the country. He lived with us at the Residence Inn for three months as we searched for a house.

But for reasons beyond my control we will be giving Thumper to a new family this week. Hopefully someone who loves him as much as we did and snuggles him like we did. Someone who will treasure him and adore him and understand how this one tiny animal played a key role in healing my son’s heart. Good-bye my furry friend. You will not be forgotten.

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