Booger and Pedro were our first two goats, brothers we bought from a farm in Newport. One of our boys named Booger; I can’t remember which. It was probably our middle son who at the time derived great pleasure from “digging for gold” as kids I once knew used to call it. I’m the one who named Pedro. He didn’t speak Spanish or anything; I had recently watched Napoleon Dynamite. I couldn’t vote for Pedro, but I could name a goat after him.
We had to get rid of Booger last year after his behavior became increasingly b-a-a-a-a-d (goat humor). We still have Pedro and the third goat we acquired, a female named Cupcake. Our fourth goat was white and black with 4 brown feet. We named her Bootsie. We got her the day that she was born. Her mother refused to feed her, pushed her away. We accepted her and my wife gently bottle-fed and nurtured her. Then, on one Sunday at the beginning of August, Bootsie was gone, dead at twelve weeks old.
We found her lifeless body before our evening church service, so we left it where we found it. The burial would have to wait. Night was close to falling when we returned home, but the deed still had to be done. Plus, our kids wanted to give Bootsie a proper send-off, a funeral. They were sincere in their request and it wasn’t a school night. This made our decision easier. My wife carried Bootsie, I carried a shovel, and we all made our way to the very back of our backyard. Our backyard was long and narrow, like a runway for large, remote control airplanes, so as we walked the mood grew more grim, more solemn. At least as solemn as a group including a 7-year-old, a 6-year-old, two 5-year-olds, and a 1-year-old can be.
It was dark by the time the I stopped digging. I placed Bootsie’s body wrapped in plastic down in the hole and looked up at my kids, bathed in moonlight. They still wanted to have the funeral, so I asked them to step closer to the hole so that we could proceed.
I spoke lovingly about Bootise, about how thankful we are to God for the time that we were able to share with her. I didn’t speak long; there’s only so much a grown man can say about a goat. I asked each of my kids who could talk (the 1-year-old being the exception) if they wanted to say anything about Bootsie. Three of them said that they would miss her. Matthew, who has an occasional stutter, said, “B-b-b-bootsie was a good goat.” That she was.
During the closing prayer, while I was giving thanks to God for the blessing of Bootsie’s life, my kids were as quiet as they have ever been. Even though it’s against the unwritten rules, I took a peek at them during the prayer. They were so serene. Until one of the boys passed gas and the touching moment was more than lost; it was obliterated by giggles. I closed the prayer and covered the grace while my kids made their way back to the house, lost in hilarity.
We don’t hide death from our children; I’m a pastor, doing so would be impossible. I think that it would also be irresponsible. At least a little. My kids know that death is a part of life, that it can happen to anyone at any time. They understand this and it doesn’t scare, it hasn’t caused them to fret or worry.
Having animals has helped their understanding of life and death, of how the cycle keeps going. They witnessed two goats being born last week. One died and the other lived. I hope this knowledge does something more than just sit in their heads, though. I hope it propels them to treasure life, to cherish the time they have with those that they love. I hope that they enjoy their time with me and my wife and that they remember how much they laughed.
And I hope that when I die, they will find a way to giggle a little at my funeral just like they did at Bootsie’s. I think that would be nice.
(Do you have any animal funeral stories? Or any other time when you or someone you know laughed at an inappropriate time? Go ahead and share.)