her tiny beating heart

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

For Frances — March 28, 2015

Lets skip to the end. We are kneeling on the pavement in front of our tiny porch. I am digging a hole in the clay dirt. Steele pulls her tiny mouse body out of the box. Am I crying? Have I stopped crying? We pet her one last time, her ears are still so silky and translucent. It's strange to be petting her body without any resistance. Is that life —resistance?

We nestle her body at the bottom of this hole, she curls up there and it seems impossible that she isn't just sleeping. I am crying now. All of these sentences I have to write, these words I have to use—hole, dirt, body, grave.

We put the first layer down, and she's gone. Then go the tiny white flowers. I am numb, I am choked. We make a circle of rocks and stand up. Steele's arms go around me, and it's sunny, there's a breeze, and I am pressed in Steele's chest and I am crying, sobbing, and this is real. We've crossed over that line. Frances is neither alive, nor sick, nor dying. Now she is dead.


She had a seizure once. I thought she was going to die then. I was holding her tiny mouse body and sobbing, shaking. Steele and I had just gotten into a stupid fight, I had worked a long day. We were cleaning out their cage when it happened and that night, after she had calmed down, I thought we would wake up and find her dead. But we didn't. She didn't die then. She was as curious as ever. She came out of her house when we called her name. She loved sunflower seeds. She climbed out onto the open cage door and ventured onto my lap. She would do this thing when you stuck a finger inside their cage where she would grab the tip of it with both her little hands. And if you stuck your noise inside the cage she would sniff up your nostril. She fought with Quincy for the wheel. They cleaned eachothers ears and the huddled together under the wheel, dug their tunnels in the fluff. And when you held her in your hand you could feel it there, beneath her soft fur, her tiny beating heart.

Then she developed tumors and we tried to be optimistic but we both knew what was coming, it was only a matter of time. She still seemed happy and curious and she still ate and played. But the tumors grew and she scratched the one on her side raw and she wasn't eating an she lost weight and most of all, her eyes were tired and sad. Quincy holed her up in their house and I made a call to the vet.

So then we found ourselves on that sunny Saturday putting her into a box, taking her into the car, and she was so confused, breathing so fast and heavy. She tried climbing up the sides of the box and so I let her climb all over my red sweater. We sped on the familiar highways and I was numb. We went through the tunnel, past the school, with the city on our back. We pulled into the parking lot of the vets office. I filled out the paperwork and then sat in a chair and let her climb on me, she was trying to figure out where to go.

They took us to this room with a counter and a bowl and I let her run around and tried to feed her sunflower seeds but she wouldn't take them. They came and did an exam and she wouldn't eat them. They left and we had just a minute and I was saying goodbye for so long, the whole day, that whole week, since she had developed the tumors, just trying to say goodbye, it's okay. It was never really going to be enough.

Right at the end she grabbed the sunflower seed and broke it open, holding it in both hands like she did. We followed the vet and I held her for the last time and said, "Goodbye Frances," and it wasn't really adequate but it was never going to be. They put her to sleep and we pet her one last time, asleep, and then we left.

I tried not to cry in the waiting room, but I sat down and my face crumpled and they came back out with the box, but this time on the highway no mouse was trying to climb up the sides of it, and it didn't matter how fast we went or what bumps we hit.


Two days later I found myself at a tattoo shop with the burning pain of a sunflower seed being inked onto my inner elbow. Frances only lived for a year and a few months. It's the tiniest life lived. My grief encompasses her life. It've cried her weight in tears. And so it was that I loved a mouse named Frances. And so it is that there is a tiny mouse shaped hole in my life, in Steele's life, and in Quincy's life.

Goodnight Frances. Goodbye Frances. Love you, you silly noodle.


  1. Thank you for writing and most especially for posting this. It was so honest and raw and beautiful and expressed those intimate emotions that I struggle to let out. The photos were so beautifully warm, loving, and so good to see. And they reminded me that the grief is worth it when the good part is so good.

  2. There's nothing in this world that can explain the love between human and animals. I know what you're going through, and there's nothing I can say except that little France's will leave you forever changed (as I'm sure you already know.)

  3. My heart breaks for you. Isn't it amazing how such a tiny creature can affect our lives? Their tiny little personalities take up whole rooms, spaces in our hearts. She is lucky to have been loved so deeply by you and Steele.


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