Princess cuddled Oreo all the way to the vet, stroking his head and alternating between telling him how much she loved him and worrying that she’d been a bad hamster mommy. I reassured her that she had taken good care of him but that sometimes things happen anyway and it’s no one’s fault.
The vet’s office was quiet, as you’d expect at 10:30 on a Friday night. There was a maintenance worker mopping the floor I refrained from asking her if she wanted to do my floor when she was done. and a receptionist behind the counter who called a triage nurse to look at Oreo as we approached. The triage nurse arrived promptly, dressed in salmon-colored scrubs. She gently peeked under the corner of the washcloth Princess had put over Oreo’s head to keep him warm from the car to the building. “Poor little guy” the nurse said. Oreo’s mouth was wide open and his eyes were shut tightly. “He doesn’t look good.” I felt stupid stating the obvious, but didn’t know what else to say. “No, he doesn’t, does he?” the nurse answered, looking up at us with kind eyes. “He may already be gone, I don’t know. I’ll take him back to Doctor, but he may be gone.”
The receptionist guided us to an exam room where we waited, chatting about something I don’t recall now. We weren’t there long when the door opened slowly and quietly. A young vet with dark curly hair and purple scrubs came in. I was surprised to see her at first because our regular hamster vet is an older man who wears a white coat over his dress pants and button-down shirt. “I’m sorry, but he was gone by the time he got here.” she told us. I put my arm around Princess and held her tightly as we listened. The vet said there was really no way to know why he died, he could have choked on or aspirated some of his food, or gotten sick, but that small animals like hamsters go very quickly because they are so tiny. Because he was already gone when we arrived she didn’t charge us a fee, something I thought was very compassionate. The vet asked if we wanted to take Oreo home with us and Princess nodded her head vigorously. I was concerned that the ground would be too frozen yet to bury Oreo, but understood how important it was for Princess to bury him by Marshmallow.
The doctor brought us Oreo’s body. His washcloth had been wrapped neatly around his body and taped shut, with an “H” over his head. She told Princess how sorry she was as Princess took Oreo. I thanked the doctor and put my arm around Princess as we walked out to the car.
When we got home there was the problem of what to do with his body until we could bury it. Angel Face, Princess and I had band the next morning and wouldn’t be home until noon. Not only would it be gross to just leave it out, we were afraid of what the cats might do. Princess didn’t want his body in the cage in her room, I didn’t want it in the freezer, so Teacher finally said “Why not put him outside?” Princess was worried a raccoon, neighborhood cat or other nocturnal visitor would get at him so I got a Glad Ware container to put him. Princess lowered Oreo’s body slowly into the container then stood looking at it, holding the lid in both of her hands.
She started to move the lid toward the container, then stopped. “I don’t want him to be dead!” she wailed. “I know, but he is and we can’t change that” I answered. “But I don’t want him to be dead.” she repeated firmly, looking at me with huge dark eyes. “I know baby, I know” I answered. She started to put the lid on the container several more times and after what seemed like forever she finally fit the lid on and closed it, crying. I held her and went with her to put the container in the corner of the back porch, then put a sled in front of it to hopefully dissuade any night visitors from investigating too closely. Princess went upstairs to call Country Boy, her boyfriend, and tell him the sad news.
The next morning on the way to band I asked Princess if she wanted to get another hamster. She didn’t know. She still felt badly for not playing with Oreo as much as she thought she should have and wasn’t sure she wanted to fall in love with another hamster and have him die on her too. She decided to think about it for a while.
After we got home from band the first thing we did was bury Oreo. Princess chose another bright flannel from my stash – Rubber Ducks – because she wanted something cheerful to wrap around him. Our feet squished in the lawn as we walked to the far corner of the yard and I felt relief that the ground was soft enough to dig in. Thank heavens he hadn’t died over the winter! There was still quite a bit of snow in that shady corner but Teacher had gone out ahead of us and had a hole ready. The bottom of the hole filled with water from the melting snow as we waited for Princess to lower Oreo. “I don’t want to put him in the water” she said. When we had buried Marshmallow we lined the grave with flowers but there were no flowers blooming yet. I looked around the yard, searching for anything that would work and spied a sprig of evergreen on the ground. “How about if we put that in the bottom?” I asked, pointing at the twig. Princess liked that idea, and as Teacher scooped the water out and retrieved the greenery I found some dried flowers that had survived the winter to put on top of the evergreen. When the grave was ready I prompted Princess to say her final goodbye. “Sorry honey, but you should probably hurry before it gets watery again.” She looked at Oreo’s body and gave the head a gentle caress, then slowly lowered it into the hole and stepped backward. After Teacher filled the hole she put a large stone on top of the grave and we walked back to the house, our arms around each other’s waists and Teacher following with the shovel. “Mommy? I think I do want another hamster.”