Robert was a squirrel. He had a good life. You would’ve liked him. My dog and I found him lying dead in the street while on a walk. He was the victim of a hit and run.
I first noticed the squirrel while my dog was busy doing her business in the neighbor’s yard. I wore a plastic dog-doody-bag on my hand.
One of the neighbor kids saw the squirrel, too. The girl’s name is Erin. Erin started crying. Her brother, Tyler, came to see what was wrong.
“Don’t cry,” I said. “It probably didn’t even feel anything before it died.”
“We HAVE to have a funeral,” Erin told her brother.
“What?” said her brother. “A funeral for a squirrel?”
“He had a name,” the little girl said. “His name was Robert.”
That’s when my dog started licking Robert’s—how do I put this?—remains. Erin shrieked. I tugged my dog’s leash and apologized.
“Will you help us?” said Erin. “With the funeral?”
I had better things to do, of course. A serious writer doesn’t just sit around eating tuna salad and watching baseball all day. Occasionally, he watches basketball.
I didn’t have time to conduct a homegoing service for a rodent. I explained this.
But the kids didn’t seem to understand. And I cannot say no to kids.
So I went home, and in a few minutes, I returned wearing another doody-baggy over my hand. I used old barbecue tongs to position Robert in a shoebox.
Four children were part of the procession. We all marched from Robert’s skidmark to Erin’s backyard.
Erin’s big sister, Kristen, stood on the porch, texting her friends about what dorks her siblings were. And about what an even bigger schmo the writer down the street was.
I felt ridiculous, but not too bad. Because when I was a boy, I once threw a wedding for two hamsters, Fred and Ginger, complete with mailed invitations. Only two of my friends RSVP’d.
And once, when my cat Rusty died, a retired preacher who lived a few houses down conducted the funeral, per my request. I’ll never forget that old man. His name was Brother Tony.
Brother Tony showed up wearing a necktie and everything. And after the service I asked Brother Tony if he thought Rusty went to Heaven.
He said, “No son, I don’t think. I know.”
I haven’t thought about Brother Tony in years.
So I did a funeral for a squirrel. As it happened, only a few months earlier, I had been ordained by the state of Alabama, to officiate my buddy’s backyard wedding in Andalusia. The color scheme was camouflage and lilac.
I did the whole ordination online. It cost fifty bucks and I got a complimentary insulated coffee mug . So legally speaking, everything was in order.
The funeral was short. I reflected on the reverence of life, and loss, and the many reasons why a squirrel is beautiful.
I love squirrels. A squirrel is free. He runs in treetops. He leaps from branches without worry. He doesn’t fret about taxes, or bills. He doesn’t overthink tomorrow. We could learn a lot from squirrels.
A girl named China attended, she wore a lace shirt. Her plus-one was Bailey. Bailey wore pants. His little brother, Arnold, was there.
I made the final prayer a good one.
“Dear God,” I began. “Robert was a good creature, and an important member of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and you knew his name…”
I was laying it on a little thick, but I kept thinking about what Brother Tony might have done.
Erin started crying. And I mean for-real crying. Her sister had to console her. I was starting to feel badly for making a little girl sob.
We buried Robert beneath a pine tree. The kids took turns saying nice things about him.
“He had a really fun life,” said Erin.
“Yeah,” added China. “He was super cool.”
“And he was fast,” said Bailey.
“Yeah,” said Arnold.
I tried to lighten the mood with some uplifting remarks about the Circle of Life, but you can’t lighten up a funeral.
Before we closed, China said, “Shouldn’t we sing something?”
Everyone agreed. The kids didn’t know any actual hymns. In fact, they didn’t know anything except songs from the hit British television series Peppa Pig.
So China sang “The Bing Bong Song” at a slow tempo. It wasn’t exactly “Amazing Grace,” but it had a catchy chorus.
Afterward, I walked home. I felt sorry that the kids were so sad, and I was hoping their grief wouldn’t last too long. The sincerity of children is a precious thing.
I heard footsteps behind me.
It was Erin. She said, “Mister Sean? Do you think Robert went to Heaven?”
And I was five years old all over again, not a second older.
“No, Erin,” I said. “I don’t think. I know.”
throughmyeyesusa - May 20, 2019 7:35 am
Awwww. You’re a good man, Sean Dietrich!
Greg Alford - May 20, 2019 9:23 am
I didn’t expect to ever have a tear in my eye when reading about the funeral service for a squirrel named Robert, or for that matter s squirrel with any other name!
I read your stories every morning. I’ve been doing so for a long time, There is always a message and I always learn from it. Never fails.
The message is always told in a way I’d never seen expressed before in print. As far as I can tell, nobody else ever bothered to write about it. I’m not sure anybody else could.
Keep sending me those messages. The beginning of my day wouldn’t be as meaningful without them.
Cathi Russell - May 20, 2019 9:33 am
Sean, you’re a good guy. Erin & friends feel better. I’m not convinced grey squirrels go to heaven…they’re far too destructive to merit that. But the red ones with the ear tufts & fox squirrels are definitely there, hanging out at the Rainbow Bridge, being chased but never caught by the hounds. That’s a picture that makes me smile!
oldlibrariansshelf - May 20, 2019 10:28 am
Thanks, Sean, for staying in touch with your child’s heart.
Connie Havard Ryland - May 20, 2019 10:45 am
You’re a good person Sean. Love and hugs.
Marilyn - May 20, 2019 10:57 am
Debbie Phillips Hughett - May 20, 2019 11:25 am
Good one! I’ve buried a frog or two in my day.
LeAnne - May 20, 2019 11:27 am
Bless you, Mister Sean.
Jackye - May 20, 2019 12:07 pm
There are many squirrels here nut two stand out .I named them Cain and Abel.I hope they go
To Heaven upon departure from my yard. Jackye
Judy Broussard - May 20, 2019 12:59 pm
I have been a party to many such services. You are a good man
Susan Eisler - May 20, 2019 1:30 pm
Ok now I want to read your book(s). I stop for roadkill and leave it, squirrels, rabbits, in my backyard. In the morning the bodies are always gone. Circle of Life? Good story and sir, you can write! So titles. Please.
Shelton A. - May 20, 2019 2:07 pm
Way to go, Sean. Two thumbs up! It took a special kind of person to do that for some kids. Be proud of yourself. By the way, what’s a Peppa Pig (I know I’m dating myself…and my kids)?
Jennifer Sienes - May 20, 2019 2:25 pm
You are a special man, Sean. I read you almost every day and applaud your ability to continually come up with stories. I am a writer, too. Contemporary Women’s fiction for the Christian market. I’d love to have the ability to see story in every situation, like you do. Thanks for the inspiration.
Robert Chiles - May 20, 2019 2:42 pm
I once did a full funeral for a 42 pound pet raccoon. He belonged to the “Raccoon Lady.” I even wore a chausubile. I think animals go to heaven because most of the animals I have met are much better than most of the people I have met.
Pat - May 20, 2019 2:56 pm
Good point Robert!
Linda Moon - May 20, 2019 3:14 pm
Our Brother Tony, here in Bluff Park, would be proud of your funeral service!
Myra G. - May 20, 2019 5:17 pm
I love your tender heart!
Edna B. - May 20, 2019 6:01 pm
Just awesome! When I was a little girl, my pet snake died and we held the funeral in our front yard. Lots of folks stopped by to see what was going on. Little did they know. My little pet was buried in a pink box and had a real granite cross put on his grave. Children feel this loss seriously. Thank you for helping Erin. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
paula jones - May 20, 2019 8:23 pm
Thank you from all of us who have buried a well-loved pet or a barely-known wild creature. I have no doubt God honors those who honor his creation. “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
Diana Gill - May 20, 2019 10:44 pm
This was great!
Jack Darnell - May 21, 2019 1:41 am
You are a Push-over! But a good story teller!
Sherry & jack (Sherry wlll be by in a minute!)
Peggy Murdock - May 21, 2019 3:46 am
Pope Francis would agree. Thank you, Sean, for another wonderful piece.
Charaleen Wright - May 21, 2019 5:08 am
Martha Martin Black - June 20, 2019 7:45 am
Oh, if you only knew how you feed my heart everyday. I can hardly wait from one writing to another. I know Im a complete stranger to you but i have a rather slim life since my husband’s departure from this world14 years ago. Most don’t seem to have a lot of time for me as i have entered my latter days so I find myself much like Blanche from the story of A Streetcar Named Desire in that her quote of, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”. In addition to that “I have always appreciated kindness & care to children who need a great deal of understanding and attention to their concerns”.
Thank you for being a patient kind & considerate adult that attended to their concerns with great care and reassurance. Im sure it meant as much to you as it did to them: some things you just “know”. I “know” it means a great deal to me.
Until next time…..
Melissa Mikkelsen - June 20, 2019 11:16 am
As a mama I have given funerals for every little creature that has been drug into this house, sometimes halfway to the great hereafter when they come in the door. Gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, cats, no dogs yet thank the Lord, and even a few fish and a snake once. I always say the rainbow bridge poem and we talk about how we loved (insert animal here). The death of a beloved animal or even one admired from afar is an important practice for other grief that happens in life. Thank you for taking the time to help those children. Its not silly and its not wrong to avoid the chuck it in the trash mindset. This kind of thing teaches empathy sympathy and respect at the very least. Thank you Sean.
turtlekid - June 20, 2019 12:30 pm
You are a man after God’s heart. “As you do to the least of creatures, you do for me.”