The Big Dead Goldfish Dilemma, Part 2: Princess at Rest

A girl and her fish.
A girl and her fish.

About a month ago, I was surprised by the response to a post I wrote about my Big Dead Goldfish Dilemma. My extra-large goldfish, Princess, had died very suddenly late last year, and unable to decide what to do with the body, I put her in my kitchen freezer.

I got a range of suggestions from concerned readers in the comments and via social media. They said I could fling Princess into the ocean, cremate her, feed her to a cat, or take her to the woods, cover her body with rocks, pray and burn some sage. I appreciated every response.

But one answer in particular caught my eye. My neighborhood pal Michaelann, who lives just a few blocks away, said I should bury the fish in her garden. I don’t know if Michaelann was serious, but after thinking it over for a few weeks, I messaged her.

Michaelann and Jerome
Jerome and Michaelann in their front yard farm.

And so, on a warm Saturday afternoon in early March, I wrapped Princess in a towel and strolled up the street, where Michaelann and her partner Jerome were waiting.

With an extensive garden, a beehive and a chicken coop, Jerome and Michaelann are serious about urban farming (check out Michaelann’s blog, Elkins Park Front Yard Farm). I met them last year, when I was working on a magazine story about backyard bee- and chicken-keeping.

When I arrived, there was already a foot-deep hole waiting, cushioned with straw.

Michaelann explained that it was the perfect place for the burial: this spring, the grave will be the site of a Native American-style Three Sisters Garden.

A Three Sisters Garden is a trio of corn, beans and squash all in one hill of soil. The beans add necessary nitrogen to the soil while using the cornstalk as a pole, and the squash’s leaves shade the ground, preventing too many weeds and naturally deterring pests. And apparently, Native Americans of the Atlantic Northeast buried an eel or a fish under each hill, to help fertilize the plants.

I unwrapped Princess and laid her in the hole.

Michaelann covered the orange scales with another handful of straw, to ensure successful composting, and we pushed the dirt back in with our hands.

Michaelann puts dirt

The grave left a small mound, which we covered with straw and then a weighted screen, to deter digging animals.

I wiped my hands on a towel and we stood around the grave.

“You were a good fish, Princess,” I said.

Jerome asked if we shouldn’t have some kind of song.

We fell silent for a moment, wondering if there were any hymns about fish.

“Fish heads, fish heads, roly-poly fish heads…” Michaelann murmured at last.

I know Princess will rest in peace.


Add yours →

  1. A good (ecologically and ethically) resting place for a dead fish. Well done (and nicely described).

  2. Glad to hear Princess was useful even in death. She was such a big, beautiful fish. Sorry for your loss. I will miss seeing my grandfish ;-).

  3. Oh, I really needed the laugh I got from the end of this post! And what a perfect burial idea for a fish.

  4. be sure to eat whatever grows atop your pet it is a part of Three Sisters Garden ritual !!. and have fun.

  5. I don’t know whether to be serious or laugh. Adorable post. Who puts their pet in the freezer? You are so nostalgic with a bit of romantic mixed in there. I love the outcome, though. I will have to read part one, but as I was strolling back through your blog hoping to see it so I didn’t have to click, I was intrigued by other posts, so I’ll have to wait on Part One. You’ve made a regular reader out of me! 🙂

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