On a hot sunny Saturday morning in late July, Henry, his friend Sebastian and Sebastian’s grandfather went crabbing at the town pier in Quogue, New York. Henry returned home with a big smile on his face and a three-inch crab in his tin bucket. “His name is Salt,” Henry announced, placing the bucket in the cool garage.
Everyone in residence — Henry’s parents, grandparents, uncle, aunt and brother — marveled at Salt’s size, congratulated Henry on his incredible catch, and then went on to tennis, golf, the beach, the deck, the day.
Consequently, no one knows the exact hour Salt passed. But later that afternoon when Henry discovered his cherished crustacean had indeed died, the brown-haired boy was bereft. “Salt was my first pet,” Henry said, walking through the house with shoulders slumping down to his knees.
Salt’s funeral service was set for the next morning — Sunday at 9. Shortly before the burial, Daddy dug a hole in the side yard. Henry and his brother Miles gently placed Salt in an empty Adidas shoe box. The mourners lined up behind Henry and marched out to the yard, each carrying a sea shell.
The Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home in New York City would be lucky indeed to have such graveside assistance available on short notice. Fortunately, two houseguests proved to be perfect for the Celebration of Salt’s Life.
Henry’s Uncle Theo (aka Uncle Weird-Beard) is a meditation specialist who’s studied with the maharishi in India. Grandpa Bob (aka Mr. Wonderful) is a songwriter par excellence. Together they staged a memorable sendoff.
“Salt the Crab, we hardly knew thee,” Uncle Weird-Beard eulogized to the circle of mourners. “We only had you for a short time before you left this world for the cosmic estuaries of crab heaven. You were a pinchy sort. Sideways about everything. Especially walking. Which reminds us that not all paths in lives are direct.”
Uncle Weird-Beard went on, “You could (impressively, I might add), breathe under water. Or not — and maybe that’s why you died. But since you’re a crab, maybe you died of cancer. Who knows? Your death, just as your life, was a mystery.” After a few more words, he added, “Goodbye, Salt.”
Our eyes then turned to Grandpa Bob who strummed his guitar and invited us to join him in song:
Goodbye my friend, goodbye my buddy.
You will be missed by most everybody.
Salt, may, you rest in peace,
Under a rock. Here by the beach.
Henry and his brother placed Salt’s cardboard coffin in the hole and patted down the dirt. Each mourner placed a shell atop the fresh earth. Henry added the final touch: a large mollusk shell that read, R.I.P SALT, a loyal and trusted friend.
Yes, we adults had some giggles during Salt’s funeral service. (How could we not?) But we also felt a special heart tug for Henry who was genuinely affected by the death of something he treasured. Who among us doesn’t remember the day our first dog, or cat, or goldfish, died? Suddenly, our rosy world lost a little luster.
As adults we have come to realize that life goes on. Henry just had his first lesson in that important premise.