It is not an easy subject for any parent to handle. For those who intend to raise their children without the "consolation of heaven," there is a need to decide exactly how one will approach it. A good place to go for some ideas is Dale McGowan's Meming of Life blog. He has a whole category on death.
Or read on...
As I've heard from a variety of people, you don't get pets for the sole purpose of introducing your child to death, but it sure can help. Frankly it has been a surprise to me that all of our fish survived for a good number of weeks.
But then we went on vacation and a number of omissions and mistakes caught up with us. I had intended to complete a partial water change and to switch the filter; we had talked about getting a bottom feeder to help keep the tank clean; I believed the packaging that claimed the vacation feeder wouldn't release any extra food into the water.
The afternoon before we headed home, Trillian received a call from her parents. They had come up to our house to check on things and found the guppies floating. Only one tetra was immediately evident, and so they feared that the others were dead too, even without additional floaters. They were willing to go get more fish--my mother-in-law thought they should go ahead and get the full complement in case the final tetra was dead by the time they returned.
I have to admit that had only a single fish died, I would have allowed them to replace it quietly. But this information told me that this was a tank failure, and I feared that simply replacing the fish--even only hours before our return, as my mother-in-law suggested--would only mean that another handful of fish would die.
As soon as we got home, I went into Scooter's room to survey the damage for myself. I quickly realized that all of the tetras were still swimming, but were in bad shape. Their normally brilliant colors had faded to an eerie translucent white. The filter was barely running. There was a visible slime coming from the vacation feeder. A test strip confirmed that the nitrates and nitrites were sky high--ammonia poisoning.
I quickly removed the feeder, switched filters, and mixed up some water with the requisite chemicals, performing an emergency water change. The numbers improved a bit and the tetras began to regain their color.
Then I had to do the hard work.
I turned to Scooter, who was playing with his much-missed trains, and said, "I have some bad news. Your fish (insert names here) died while we were gone. The water went bad and they got sick."
He cried. Trillian scooped him up and held him for a little bit. He brought up getting new fish, and we agreed, although I suggested some bottom-dwellers. Then he returned to playing with his trains. All was not forgotten, as the first part of his play consisted of him informing his engines that those particular fish were gone forever.
I'm making frequent checks of the levels and may make another water change and hope that we can avoid another round of deaths, but I am thankful that this was not a horribly painful encounter with death. Although Scooter has used the term 'forever' multiple times, I do not think he fully understands, but this seems to be about right for his age.
The new fish I want to get are supposed to be quite hardy; fingers crossed they are.