Dealing with the death of a pet is not easy — whether your beloved pet had fur or scales. If you or your child have recently lost a fish, there are ways you can make the coping process easier.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Have a Discussion About Death (with Yourself or Your Child)
- Step 2: Decide What to Do with the Body
- Step 3: Gather Your Friends and Family
- Step 4: Set the Mood
- Step 5: Recite a Poem, Prayer, or Other Words for Your Fish
- Step 6: Dispose of or Bury the Fish’s Body
- Step 7: Do Something Special in the Fish’s Honor
- Step 8: Take Some Time to Regroup
We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to give your fish a meaningful send-off.
Step 1: Have a Discussion About Death (with Yourself or Your Child)
It’s understandable if death makes you uncomfortable. But have you heard of something called death positivity? Life, death, and moving on are all affected by your attitude.
There are many resources available to help you have a healthy discussion about death and loss with your child. For example, you may want to consider reading the best books for children about death.
Here are a few other tips:
- Use direct terms like “die” and “death.” This allows your child to understand the real meaning of the word, rather than get confused by euphemisms like “passed on,” “gone away,” or “sleeping.”
- Show your emotions. It’s true that a fish may warrant less severe emotions, but let your child know it’s okay to be sad.
- Share your beliefs. Let your child in on your beliefs. Tell your child that he or she can learn about different belief systems as he or she gets older. Everyone may believe different things about death, and that’s okay.
- Talk about how to treat others. Help your child understand how to treat a person in mourning. Just being there for that person and showing a little kindness can go a long way.
Step 2: Decide What to Do with the Body
You’ll need to decide what to do with the remains. There are certain laws that may dictate how to bury or dispose of a fish’s body.
You may choose to save the fish’s remains if you’re having the funeral off-site or in your home a few days later.
You should wrap the fish in a cloth or small towel and place him or her in an airtight bag or container. Put this in the freezer or cooler until you’re ready to bury or cremate your pet's remains.
Step 3: Gather Your Friends and Family
You may choose to invite other friends and family members to your fish’s funeral. However, you’re more than welcome to observe this privately, too.
This is also a good opportunity to choose where you’re going to have the funeral. If you are inviting guests, be sure to let them know in advance so they can clear their schedules.
Step 4: Set the Mood
Yes, even fish funerals could use a little ambiance. Whether you’re having the funeral in your home or in a natural area or beach, for example, you may consider bringing a few candles for you and your guests to hold.
You may also consider playing some funeral music in the background.
Step 5: Recite a Poem, Prayer, or Other Words for Your Fish
Now that you’re in the right place with the right people, it’s time for the actual honors to begin. There are plenty of things to be said about a little fish. Every life has value! Check out prayers about pets inspiration if you want some ideas.
Here are a few examples of what you can say during your fish’s celebration of life:
- “You were a good little buddy. You never destroyed anything in the house and you always swam to greet me. I’d like to think you were always smiling. I’ll try to keep smiling, too, even without you. Rest easy.”
- “Thanks for reminding me to ‘just keep swimming,’ and for always being down to watch horror movies with me so I wasn’t alone. You were the best.”
- “It’s true. Fish are friends. Thanks for being mine and for always listening to me even if you couldn’t say anything back. I hope you’re swimming in the biggest ocean you can imagine. I miss you.”
Step 6: Dispose of or Bury the Fish’s Body
Depending on where you live, there may be different laws that dictate what to do with the remains of animals. In Florida, for example, you have a few different options for how to dispose of a fish’s body.
You may “cremate or burn them, dispose of them in a Class I landfill, or dispose of them on the property where they died or other approved properties provided they are buried at least two feet below the surface of the ground and above the water table.” In California, the State recommends burying the body at least four feet underground.
Again, laws and recommendations vary by state. And, you may notice that flushing a fish down the toilet is not a recommended option as it’s so often depicted in shows and movies.
Flushing it down the toilet could introduce a parasite or other harmful bacteria into the waterways.
Step 7: Do Something Special in the Fish’s Honor
Doing something special to honor the memory of you or your child’s fish will further the healing process. It’s a way to bring your family together during a sad time and repurpose it into a happy one.
Take a trip to the beach or natural park, or have a movie night and watch Finding Nemo, for example. You may also consider volunteering at a local animal shelter or donating any extra supplies you may have.
Tip: Virtual memorials aren't just for our human loved ones. If you've ever created a memorial page with a service like GatheringUs, you know that they're an amazing way to honor and remember someone who's passed away. If you want to create a similar memorial for your pet, these online pet memorial services can help you do just that.
Step 8: Take Some Time to Regroup
After losing a pet or a loved one, it’s understandable if you need some time to adjust to living with this loss. It may not be the best idea to immediately run to the pet store and buy a replacement fish.
Consider taking a break from fish ownership to allow you or your child to mourn and pay respect to the fish you recently lost. This is also a good time to reevaluate you or your child’s caretaking responsibilities.
You’re freer to look into what worked and what didn’t work as a fish owner. Do you need to rearrange your home or keep the fish in a different room? Did you or your child really enjoy taking care of a fish?
Do you see yourself or your child taking care of another fish in the future? Is this the right animal companion for your household or is your child ready for more responsibility, such as taking care of a cat or dog?
Taking care of a pet — no matter how small — should only be done if you have enough time, energy, and love to devote to another living thing. If you need to focus some energy on yourself or your child needs to focus some energy on themselves for a while, by all means, allow this to happen. Self-care and self-love enable you to better care for others around you.
Just Keep Swimming
Best said in Finding Nemo, sometimes you have to “just keep swimming.” Fish may not be the most interactive or even longest-living companions.
But it’s right to honor your fish’s life with a dignified funeral — it allows you to thank your fish and share some love one last time. It can also help your child learn an important lesson about both the value of life and how to deal with loss.
- “Disposal of Deceased Domestic Animals.” Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 9 Nov 2018. floridadep.gov/sites/default/files/Disposal%20of%20Deceased%20Domestic%20Animals%20Guidance%20Document_0.pdf
- “Protocols for Safe Handling and Disposal of Carcasses.” California Department of Fish and Wildlife. wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Laboratories/Wildlife-Investigations/Monitoring/Protocols