Kevin noticed her first. “She’s cold, Mrs. Pils, and she’s not moving.” Michael confirmed the news, “Her eyes stay closed when you touch her.” Death came quietly, unexpectedly during recess on a misty, gray October day at Northside Elementary School in Middleton. Sweet Pea, Jr. our first grade classroom pet had died. Rachel aptly noted, “And she was so young.” Indeed, Sweet Pea Jr. was only one and a half years old, but loved well beyond her years. She was handled constantly, taken home on weekends, and had escaped so many times that we had a poster near her cage, graphing her exploits. But, Sweet Pea Jr. loved unconditionally and so was loved in return.
As the rest of the class trickled in from the playground, the news spread quickly. Already three girls were kneeling in prayer at the side of Sweet Pea’s cage. I placed her soft, brown furry body in a small basket lined with cotton from the science center. We sat and talked, poked and felt of death, as we passed her body around the circle. The children remembered losing other pets, a guinea pig who slept her last night on a heating pad, a rabbit found bloodied in the yard, and an imaginary lemming who drowned after complications from cancer.
We sat on the rug and decided to bury Sweet Pea, Jr. in the earth under of the evergreens in the back of the playground. Some thought it would be appropriate to place her next to Sweet Pea, Sr., but I couldn’t remember exactly where that was, so we chose a small blue spruce near the fence. The members of the procession carried a spade and two large serving spoons. I dug the hole and the kids smoothed it out with the spoons adding the cotton for our pet’s last resting place. We stood in a circle and everyone said something nice about Sweet Pea. “She was cuddly.” “She was my friend.” “That time she almost nipped me, it didn’t even hurt.” “I love Sweet Pea, Jr.”
We covered her with soil, packed it down, and as with the Egyptians left an apple from Philip’s lunch for the journey to heaven. We walked back to the school burdened with enough grief to fill the silent playground with our mourning cries. As usual under such circumstances, we ate following the internment. Actually, Gracie had forgotten the snack that day, so we just had milk.
Everyone wrote about Sweet Pea Jr. in their journals.
“Sweet Pea, Jr. was our classroom pet. She was a good pet. She behaved.”
“Sweet Pea, Jr. was a very nice pet and it is sad to know that she died.”
“I love Sweet Pea, Jr. She was cute. She died today.
“Roses are red, violets are blue. Sweet Pea, Jr. we miss you.”
“Sweet Pea, Jr. we miss you. We see your face everywhere.”
Sweet Pea, Jr. was loved and remembered. We should all be so lucky.