By: Tanya Ward Goodman
So there is a dead mouse in a cardboard box tied to a tree in my back yard. The mouse’s name is Tile, which my daughter assures me is pronounced “Tilly.” He’s been dead since Friday evening (yep, three days ago).
I’ve explained that in most cultures, there are elaborate rituals designed to get the dead body out of the main living area. There are lots of great ways to send off the deceased – you can burn them on a pyre, float them away on a barge, or just bury them in an old fashioned hole. “We do this,” I say, “so we can let the soul be free. We let go of the body so that our loved ones can remain in our memories (without the stink, without the maggots).” But my daughter will have none of it.
I’m wondering if we are being too permissive.
Last night we turned our dining room into a fine restaurant and let her serve our dinner and present us with a check after dessert. Later, she pretended to be a concierge in a four-star hotel and tucked her brother into his “suite”. The service was first-rate, but I didn’t get to kiss my daughter good night because it would be awkward to be so intimate with the hotel staff.
My daughter’s imagination is enormous. Her commitment to her work is worthy of some of the finest method actors.
The funeral of Tile the Mouse was a baroque affair. We, the mourners, were asked to sit in a row of chairs in the yard. My daughter sang a song about the short, tragic life of Tile while my son accompanied her on a mix machine.
“Just call me the funeral DJ,” he said with a grin.
After the song we were asked to wander around the yard and gather flowers to place on a small brick shrine at the base of the tree. And when we’d done that, my daughter announced that we would turn over leaves in a kind of memory game.
“We will decide what kind of afterlife Tile will have,” she said. “If you turn over the leaf with the black spot on the back, Tile will have an unhappy afterlife.”
My husband and I looked at each other with real concern. An unhappy afterlife? When we decided to have kids, we signed up for a lot of responsibilities, but wasn’t this taking it a little too far?
We held our breath and chose our leaves, letting out a collective sigh of relief when we found only green.
The night air grew cold and we wondered how long the funeral would last. My daughter started to cry.
“You’re ruining this,” she said. “It’s ruined. This is all wrong.”
My husband and son wandered into the house and I sat with my daughter in the cold damp night. At first, I didn’t really know what to say.
“You are working so hard,” I said into her tangle of curls. “I see how hard you are working.”
We sat like that for a while – her damp little face pressed into my neck, her sobs gradually subsiding.