The human heart, its many mysteries, and gerbils.

My kids know I don’t like rodents. Of any kind. Squirrels, mice, gerbils, rats, hamsters. They just know. And for a long time, they knew not to ask for a pet. But my son, my son. He wanted a pet so badly and his sister had allergies so no dogs or cats. He didn’t stop talking about it. He took books out from the library and researched gerbils and hamsters. He found a cage for free from a nice lady at church. What was I to do? Say no?

He was responsible and well behaved and I knew he was up to the task. So yes, we gave in and bought him a gerbil almost two years ago.

My son has loved this gerbil he called Hercules, which I thought was a wicked cute name – even if the rodent itself was not particularly cute.

Hercules made a lot of noise during the day. One time he escaped. One time he hadn’t been fed and was jumping like crazy around the cage so I overcame my fears and fed the poor little guy. Even though really he could have jumped out at any time. And then who knows what would’ve happened.

But my son loved his gerbil. He cared for him. He fed him every day. He cleaned his cage every two weeks (almost.) I guess I didn’t realize how attached or how the strings of his heart had thickened.

Two days ago, my younger son found Hercules unmoving.

We all checked him out and yes, Herc had moved on to gerbil heaven. I found my son in the bathroom sobbing into my husband’s shirt. His chest heaving, the emotion and the heartache spilling out. But it didn’t stop there. Off and on, he’d start crying. He buried Herc with a gravestone and said a prayer.

Now I admit I’m not saddened by this but I am absolutely broken at seeing my son go through such grief. It made me think.

The human heart trapped inside our body, pumping blood in and pumping it out. It’s just an organ like any other. So why when heartaches come our way do we feel it inside our chest? The ache starts slowly and builds and soon it rushes up and wells out our eyes. It consumes our body. Afterward we still feel it, long after the tears are gone.

This morning, he said, “I don’t feel well. Like not sick sick but my body aches and I feel bad.”

I held him and cried with him and tried to let him know that it will get easier.

And Hercules will never be forgotten.

So here’s to you, Herc. You’ll be missed.


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26 Responses to The human heart, its many mysteries, and gerbils.

  1. Matthew MacNish March 19, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Rest in peace, Herc, little buddy.

    As sad as it is, I think the death of a pet can be a good lesson for kids. Death is a part of life, and far better for them to experience for the first time with a pet rather than a person.

    • Laura March 19, 2012 at 11:49 am #

      I fully agree. But it’s still hard to see him go through it. He’s taking it so hard!

  2. Stina Lindenblatt March 19, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    I’ve been through that heartache with a loss of a pet (hamster and rabbits) when I was a kid. It does hurt. Even as an adult, it hurts.

    My mom was the same as you, Laura, when it came to rodents. But my teddy bear hamster grew on her to the point that every time we had guests over, she would ask me to show them Buffy (not as in the vampire slayer, but as in a shoe buff).

    • Laura March 19, 2012 at 11:58 am #

      I might not love gerbils but watching him go through this is so hard!

  3. Ansha Kotyk March 19, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    HUGS to the little guy.

  4. Creepy Query Girl March 19, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    awe, I’m so sorry for your sons loss but especially that he had to face this kind of grief so young:( And I’ve often wondered about heart ache too. It does hurt so bad and it amazes me how emotion an play such a roll on our physical self.

  5. Susan Kaye Quinn March 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Poor sweetie! It just kills me when my kids hurt in any way, but I’m glad they feel they can show their emotions and not keep them locked inside.

  6. Katie Ganshert March 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Aw, poor guy! He’s got a big heart. Losing a beloved pet is no easy thing.

    Can I make a confession?

    I had a hamster when I was eight. I begged my parents for him. Only I didn’t like him. He bit me once and I hated cleaning his cage. When he died, my mom told me and I remember acting very sad, but being secretly relieved.

    How horrible is that??

    • Laura March 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      That’s why we didn’t want to get a hamster – we’d heard they bite! I don’t blame you. 🙂

  7. Leigh Moore March 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Aww! Laura! I’m so sad about Hercules, and I hate rodents, too! :o( You’re right about the heart and how much stuff like that can hurt. But more than anything, it’s just killer when it’s our little guys/girls hurting like that. :o(

    Want a laugh? My hubs had a hamster when he was a kid, and he had to clean its cage every time. He said one a.m. he awoke to the sound of their cat “Pushkin” eating the hamster. His thought: “I’ll never have to clean that cage again.”

    Maybe Hercules did pass just a little too soon. ;p

    • Laura March 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

      Those kind of stories crack me up. Of course, they aren’t funny for the child or the victim but it’s kind of ironic when a pet cat eats a pet rodent. 🙂

  8. Jill Kemerer March 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Oh, poor Hercules. I’m sorry for your son. It’s really hard on them to lose a pet. We have a six-year-old guinea pig. I keep hoping the sweet little guy kicks the bucket. I know that’s bad, but really, how much bedding, hay, and food pellets does a girl have to buy in a lifetime??

  9. Alex J. Cavanaugh March 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Sorry he lost his little furry buddy. The heart is just a muscle but it’s always what hurts first.

  10. Laura Marcella March 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    I’m so sorry for your son 🙁 I was 14 when my guinea pig Patches died and I was devastated. I still feel sad about it sometimes because she was just the sweetest thing! I’m sure Hercules was a wonderful little pet. Hope your son feels better soon.

  11. Ghenet Myrthil March 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    Aww. What a sad story. I remember when my hamster died. I was similarly devastated.

    I love your description of heartache. It’s so true.

  12. Donna K. Weaver March 19, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Awww. Reminds me of when my youngest son’s rat died. He was devastated.

    Wonderful how you capture the physical side of grief.

  13. Wendy Paine Miller March 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    Aw shucks, Herc left a big impression during his time here.

    Meaningful post. We are preparing as our dog is having trouble even getting up lately.

    ~ Wendy

  14. Lynda R Young March 19, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    Aw, poor Hercules. (and yep, I love that name for a gerbil). It is interesting how our emotions tie so closely to our bodies. They can’t be separated no matter how much we might try.

  15. becca puglisi March 19, 2012 at 10:18 pm #

    Awww. My heart hurts for your son. Go with God, Hercules. And I’ll say a prayer for Jr. Pauling.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  16. mooderino March 19, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    I had a feeling this was going to be a sad story. Just seemed to start too well. Death is such a spooky strange thing I think it is a valuable experience for a kid.


  17. Sarah Pearson March 20, 2012 at 1:23 am #

    Awww poor little one. And poor you too. There’s no way you’re not hurting, seeing him go through it.

  18. Jemi Fraser March 20, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    Oh, Laura, I’m teary eyed right now. Your poor little guy. Loss is so hard at any age, but a deep felt loss like that is so hard for kids. They love with their whole hearts and souls – it’s a great way to be, but it can hurt so much. Give him an extra hug for me.

  19. Stacy March 20, 2012 at 2:20 am #

    Aw, so sad for your little guy. Loss is hard for us all, but especially with kids. My daughter has a wide, loving heart, and she’s always worrying about something happening to one of our dogs. She’s growing up with our Golden and that’s great, but it will make the loss that much tougher.

    Still, animals are worth the pain. Thinking of you all!

  20. Sherrie Petersen March 20, 2012 at 4:05 am #

    Oh, it’s so hard to lose a pet! My husband bawled when our last dog died, so it isn’t just children who feel that pain. I’m dreading the day my kids have to face that.

  21. Dawn Simon March 20, 2012 at 4:54 am #

    Very touching post, Laura.

    It’s so sad when a pet dies. My daughter’s rabbit died about a month ago, and we all miss her.

    Your son has a beautiful heart. Hercules was lucky to spend his short life with him. You’re a sweet mom, allowing your son to get a pet that was out of your comfort zone.

  22. Karen Strong March 21, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    Aw, poor Herc. I remember you talking about him on Twitter. 🙂 This hit him hard since it was his first pet. I hope he feels better now.

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