The Average Life Expectancy of a Hamster is Two Years

The Next Family

By: Tosha Woronov

I think the hamster is dying.

Princess.  That’s her name.  Princess Super Hamster.

And I feel bad.

I don’t know what to do, how to help her.  I’m not sure if it’s crazy and excessive to take her to a vet, or unthinkable not to.  I had hamsters as a little girl, a few of them.  But none made it to the senior stage that Princess has, which is (possibly) dying just shy of her second birthday, of natural causes, whatever that means.  No, my childhood hamsters– Henry, Henrietta, and I can’t remember the other’s name – suffered more immediate fates:  trapped in our home’s heating system after a late-night escape, having snuck out like teenagers, only to be found several years later by my dad and the furnace guy.  Those brittle, fetal-shaped skeletons.

No, Princess is dying differently, safe in her cage, which I just cleaned, at 3 am.  I did this because I want her to die more comfortably, with soft bedding and fresh water.  That’s what I hope my family will do for me when I go.  Not only that, but should I wake in the morning to find her gone, I don’t want to have to dispose of a gross cage and a dead hamster.

She’s just sort of withering away.  Shutting down, like an old battery.  She weighs almost nothing -a husk -when once she was a fat puffball of warmth.   She doesn’t appear to be in any pain, but who knows?  She’s never been the complaining type.  Suffering gracefully, I suppose.  That’s what I hope to do for my family when I go.  She’s also more still.  Not busy at all.  I can now hold her for hours (and have been all night), half-wrapped in my t-shirt on the couch.  I used to complain, “she’s so sweet and cute and all, but she just won’t hang around or cuddle, always on the move.”  That’s partly why we didn’t play with her enough.  That and I had dishes to do, or emails to write, pasta to boil.  Leo had to play basketball, make a picture, take a bath.  For this, I feel bad.

I think I can handle the fact of her dying.  And it seems Leo can, too.  Tonight I told him it might happen and he didn’t cry.  They spent a moment together, saying not quite final goodbyes, but probably as much as any 5 year-old (who has thus far lost only one goldfish and a tiny praying mantis that we adopted from our tomato garden) knows to do.  At first I think I was disappointed that he didn’t seem more concerned, because I love a soul who aches for all animals.  But then I remembered that his wide-open heart is this way already, and the less it breaks, the better.  I believe we parents of sensitive children are always relieved when that child feels normal –whatever that means –about anything.

It’s time for me to go to sleep now, like the rest of my family.  And when my husband, my son, my dog, and I wake in the morning, it’s quite possible our hamster won’t.

Her name is Princess Super Hamster, and she’s a sweet girl.

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