The Big Dead Goldfish Dilemma

Do fish go to heaven?
Do fish go to heaven?

Not every Princess’s passing makes the news.

She cost just a few cents when I bought her – a tiny orange dart. My youngest sister-in-law, whose own middle name is Princess, became especially fond of the fish and named it after herself.

Princess (on the right in the blog header photo) grew quickly. She outgrew all my nets. At about a foot in length, she was the size of a hearty lake trout. We fried smaller fish for dinner when we went surf fishing on the Jersey shore. When I leaned over the tank to feed her and her companions, she splashed my face like a cheeky dolphin.

Princess in her younger days.
Princess in her younger days.

About two years ago, she was partially responsible for what I called the spawning of a new era, and I have been parenting her fry ever since.

Princess's fry.
Princess’s fry.

She was the biggest, fastest, greediest fish in the tank – until one day last fall, when she suddenly seemed a little lethargic. The next day, she wasn’t interested in her food. I wasn’t too worried, having nursed her through a couple ailments in the past, including a quick bout of ick and some fin and tail rot. I added a natural antibacterial remedy to the tank.

The next morning, she was dead.

In all my years of fish-keeping, I’ve never seen a fish go down so fast. Princess should have lived many more years. I have no idea what she had, but whatever it was, it didn’t seem to affect any of the other fish.

I’m not immune to grief over my goldfish, who usually survive a couple years at least (my two oldest have been with me since college). All pets, however small, should be a genuine commitment, and I hate to lose them.

In the past, when my own fish have floated, I’ve made do with a quick flush, a tender wrapping and a trip to the dumpster, or a hasty burial, all with a fond word of farewell.

But I never lost a fish as large as Princess before.

As a practical matter, flushing was totally out of the question. And such was my fondness for Princess that I couldn’t countenance tossing her in the trash. But burial posed its own problems. We live in an apartment complex and have no front yard to speak of – just a concrete porch, parking lot, sidewalk and street.

I could have installed Princess in a large shoebox and taken her to the public park across the road – but what would the neighbors think, if they saw me digging a hole in the grass big enough to lay Princess to rest? I don’t even own a shovel.

And what if a passing Labrador retriever took too keen an interest?

Mom said next time I visit, I can haul the body across state lines and bury it in my parents’ yard. But my preference for travel by train is a problem. I doubt Amtrak counts a medium-size dead fish among approved luggage items.

To complicate matters, my sister-in-law, who was out of the country at the time of Princess’s demise, also grieved the fish and asked us not to dispose of the body until she could pay her respects.

Finally, in a textbook failure to cope with the situation, I put the poor fish in a gallon-sized plastic Ziploc bag and stashed her on the door of our freezer, next to a bag of sweet corn and an ice pack for my plantar fasciitis.

And there Princess remains, still eyeing me reproachfully every time I reach for some French-cut beans or a Popsicle.

If ever there was a first-world problem, it’s what to do with an oversized dead goldfish. But that doesn’t make me feel any better. So I’m taking to the blog.

What should I do?

Princess, almost two years ago.
Princess, almost two years ago.

For the touching conclusion to this story, check out Part 2: Princess at Rest.



Add yours →

  1. I have considered the freezer route for our urban chickens after a summer burial through caliche (clayrock) at 120 degrees proved crazy… Did it once.. Never again. What about … I hate to say it? Some form of cremation? Or carry your friend in dry ice to a more rural location for a burial at sea? ( no shovel required) sorry for your loss. Best, renee

    • Oh dear. I have thought to myself that were I ever to have chickens, I would make soup out of them when they died (provided it was old age). I wonder if I could actually manage that though. Burning a fish seems a tad unnatural, doesn’t it? The burial at sea idea is interesting – I am closer to the Atlantic ocean than I am to my parents’ yard.

      • There is indeed a spiritual if not comic essence to your post. I do hope you’ll share a reslution. When a fox took apart my fav chicken… it ate until it exposed the last egg she created. My husband wasn’t happy when I suggested the kids take it to school for their forensics lesson… I guess I’m just practical… but worry about eating something if it might have diseases…

      • Oh my. Keeping chickens sounds like it might be a gruesome endeavor. Thanks for weighing in.

  2. Aww I am so sorry for your loss. Losing any pet is heartbreaking. I lost 36 of my babies last year due to a parasite (like ich) and it was awful. Take heart in the fact that you loved her and hope you and your sister can bury her soon. ‘hugs’

    • Thanks. It’s hard to meter how much sadness is appropriate for a fish. I think I’ve seen more than the average amount of major grief for a person may age, but somehow that doesn’t inure me to pet grief.

  3. You should honor Princess. She deserves better than the freezer door, and she deserves all the respect you have. She was a big bad goldfish and she did her best – so do your best to give her a nice send off (after your sister arrives and hopefully helps).

    My best,

  4. You could bury the fish in my garden…under the corn!

  5. I would be proud to have Princess join our other beloved pets. Bring her home to your roots 🙂

  6. if I’m not too late, feed it to a cat. Princess’s a part of the food-chain after all and feels kind of sorry she doesn’t belong to your tank anymore.

    • Now that’s a creative suggestion. I don’t have a cat and now that I think of it I don’t think anyone in my extended family has a cat. Lots of pals with cats though. Hm.

      • Hm .. hope you didn’t take the suggestion seriously. Hows the pal’s cat doing ?? Carcases can be infectious when fed after days of rot.

      • I won’t be serving Princess’s body to any local pets, even though I doubt her frozen body poses any health risk. Thanks for following up though.

  7. No need to dig. Find a not very public place. Lay her there. Cover her with a pile of rocks. Say some prayers, burn some sage, and let nature take its course. Mother Earth is a great re-cycler of organic material. Loving your book….

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