More than just an item: It’s a link to home, memories

Published 5:14 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

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He had been in my home for over a month when he asked if he could bring the empty fish tank in his room at his mom’s house. He wanted to get a new school of fish to enjoy. We discussed the logistics of moving the 45-gallon tank from one place to another and the work that caring for fish entails, but I could tell this was important to him. 

The tank was grimy from years of neglect, so I mentioned that it might be easier to buy a new tank. He expressed his love for the current tank, so we worked together to clean what we could. We scrubbed every inch of the frame and the glass, getting it as nice as possible. 

We placed the tank on a table outside as we continued to scrub. Unfortunately, one of the table legs sank into the ground, and the table shifted. The tank slid off the table and shattered into more pieces than anyone could count. 

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We went inside after cleaning the mess of the broken tank. Timothy sat down, and I noticed a few tears rolling from his eyes. Those who don’t know the whole story may find it odd that a 14-year-old would cry over a broken fish tank. After all, it was just a fish tank. 

But it wasn’t just a fish tank to Timothy. It was a representation of home. It was a symbol of when things were better. It was bringing a little bit of his “normal” into his new reality. 

There are several steps we can take to help children who have lost an item to which they were attached, and these steps are critical for children who have experienced some sort of trauma in the past. 

First, we should empathize with their situation and understand that an item may be more important than it appears. Most of us know how an object can have sentimental value, but it’s easy to forget that when we aren’t attached to that item. We may not understand how much an item can mean to a child who has gone through difficult times and does not have much from home and family. An item may have much more value than we realize, and we should not discount that value. 

Because an item can have great value to children who have gone through difficult times, we must ensure that we aren’t insensitive to their loss of that item. We may be tempted to say things such as, “It was just a fish tank,” or, “We can just get another one.” We may be trying to be helpful with quotes like those but ignoring the fact that the item was important to them belittles their loss. 

When an item that represents home or a better, more secure portion of a child’s life is broken, we should allow them to mourn that loss in their own way. I couldn’t bring the fish tank back, but I could sit beside him while he contemplated the loss of this reminder of home. It’s okay to let them mourn the loss and to stand by them while they do. 

Lastly, we can do what we can to help them move forward after losing the important item. I couldn’t fix his fish tank from home, but when the time was right, we purchased a new tank. A 60-gallon tank with various tropical fish now sits in the living room. It’s not the one from his mom’s home, but I hope and pray that it will bring new, good memories from this day forward.