Off the Mat: Bearing Witness to an Act of Compassion

Ode to a Hamster

My anxious boy follows hamster ball through kitchen, every 2.3 minutes asking, Can we put her back in her cage? What if she gets out? What if she gets stuck? Hurt? What if I can’t find her?

The worry. The holding on too tight. The annoyance of being woken up in the middle of the night. The basic cleaning and feeding. There’s a certain pleasure in watching him shoulder these responsibilities. Welcome to parenthood, kiddo. Welcome to caring for another living creature. 


When Santa was considering delivering a hamster, I heard a litany of horror stories: 11 surprise babies, many eaten. Escapes through baseboard heaters. Crushed in loving child embraces.  We go forward anyway.

Christmas morning, book learning, and experience begin teaching immediately:

  • If you want a close relationship, you need to play together daily.
  • A little food goes a long way.
  • Clean more often than you think is necessary.
  • Routines help. Too much disruption causes anxiety.


Wondering about her sense of smell, we place a juicy berry on the upper level of her cage, but get no reaction. Eager to treat, he lifts the cardboard hut to reveal a sleepy ball of fur. His reach knocks the berry down, an accidental perfect shot into her lap. Not bothering to get up, she holds it with four paws, nibbles a dream berry fallen from heaven. Cuteness overflows. Admit it, I’m smitten too.


Saturday morning, hubby and son turn their LEGO project into a hamster project, walling off the kitchen 4” high, they block the hall exit and space under the stove. Rodent that she is, she keeps to the edges, under the lip of cabinetry. Finds crumbs, no surprise, and finds the one hole we didn’t, promptly disappearing under dishwasher.

Kiddo dissolves into tears as parents spring into action. Even unscrewed, the panel doesn’t come off the ancient appliance. We offer yogurt drops to lure her out. Sugar wins, thankfully moments – not days or weeks – later.


By week four, excitement wanes. He’s less likely to fish her out of deep sleep to play. Unless a friend is over. Then she’s novel to share. Friday afternoon, two 2nd graders build her a LEGO maze and tissue box nest, then move on to something else. Put her back in her cage, please, I instruct. And they do. My Spidey sense nudges me to check on her, but I don’t listen.

After dinner, my boy calls, Mama, she’s bleeding. I picture a scrape. What?! bring her here.

The hamster he hands me is gasping for breath, bleeding from inside. My hubby groks the situation first, intoning for my ears only, That’s the end of Hamster. Give her energy.

When I trained in Hospice Reiki, I had not imagined comforting a rodent. I cradle the small life in my palm, feel her labored breath.

My kiddo hovers, What happened? Why’s she breathing like that? What’s wrong? He tells of finding a flipped ladder, a pinned hamster.

I look in his eye. Honey, something got cut or broken inside her. Maybe she ate something sharp on the floor? Or maybe she fell too far and broke something inside. Either way, it can’t be fixed. She’s dying.

Nooooooo!!!!!!!!!! He throws himself to the kitchen floor, curls up, sobs. I move toward him, but he shrinks away. And she needs my loving kindness too.

So I hold her calmly. Stroke her gently and wish her peace in her sweet, playful little soul. In moments, her breathing stops and light leaves her eyes.

Thankful the ground has not frozen, we bury her under the lilacs Saturday morning. We mourn. Tears and bedtime conversations. Questions about burial and decay. His first direct experience that all life is fragile. Everything dies. Remember the joy she brought.


Writing this, I wonder, will people judge my child for this accident? Judge me for holding her while he sobbed on the floor?

I hope he witnessed my compassion for another living being at the end of her life.

I hope my compassion did ease her suffering, at least a bit.

This is my hope, my prayer.

[Photo credit: (cc) Kevin Lee]


Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In “Off the Mat,” Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.






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