"O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" - 1 Corinthians 15:55
"Shady is dead," my wife Karen said to me, with more concern than grief in her voice. I knew the source of her concern well enough. Shady had lived in a tank in our den for a year and-a-half, as close to family as a frog can be.
How do we break the news to our daughter Alanna, just five years old at the time, who referred to herself as the frog's "master," who gave Shady her name, and even informed us that Shady was a girl ("because there's some way to tell," she had said)?
When Alanna woke up I told her, "I have some sad news. Shady died." Alanna immediately responded, "How can you tell?" I had to suppress a smile because, in truth, the frog was the picture of death, lying belly-up with her webbed "hands" positioned as if to hold a lily. I said, "Come downstairs and see."
Alanna stared at Shady for a long time and said, "She's dead," then added matter-of-factly, "We should bury her."
Alanna knew the very spot to bury her. When the hole was deep enough, I slid Shady's body into the ground and we covered her with a blanket of earth.
"Let's sing a song," Alanna said. I asked if she had any suggestions. "Let's sing ‘Silent Night.'" With the rain beginning to fall around us, seeming to water the seed we had planted in the earth, we sang a homely duet. Then Alanna said a prayer: "Dear God, thank you for Shady, who was a great frog. We hope she is all right. Please take care of her. Amen." We placed a couple of evergreen boughs on the grave and then went inside for breakfast.
I suppose it is handy to have a minister in the family when a frog needs a funeral, but in this case I was more member of the congregation than officiant. And I was struck by how wonderful it is to be part of a family, the church, that shows us from the earliest age how to respond to the awesome presence of death.
Thank you for comfort in the presence of death. And thank you, again, for Shady.
Martin B. Copenhaver is President of Andover Newton Theological School. His newest book is Room to Grow: Meditations on Trying to Live as a Christian. Follow Martin on Twitter @mbcopenhaver.