The Death of a Chameleon: There’s No Wrong Way to Handle the Grief



It was late as we came home from a family party. My husband, Kevin, was anxious to get the kids (and himself) to bed.


As he walked in the door, the sight of the chameleon cage reminded Kevin of my son’s dead pet. He had noticed it when we were leaving but didn’t tell Archer— it didn’t seem like news to share right before a party. By the time we got home, Kevin just wanted to put the dead lizard outside and get to sleep, so as soon as Archer came in, Kevin told him that the chameleon died and brought him over to show him the lifeless lizard on the bottom of the cage. Moments later, Kevin was already outside, disposing of the body, making quick work of this depressing deed.


a chameleon on a branch in a cage under a heat light


That’s when I made my way into the house.


I walked in, hearing sobs coming from my bedroom.  Archer was flopped across my bed, shoulders heaving, snot soaking into the comforter.


an empty chameleon cage filled with branches and greenery
An empty chameleon cage.

I asked what was wrong, my mind reeling as I tried to figure out what could have happened in the few minutes it took me to get everything out of the car and walk inside.


“My (sob) my chameleoooooooooon!”


Aw, crap.


My mama-heart was in flux. Hurting for Archer, while flush with relief for myself.
(Have you seen a chameleon … like, up close? Eyes that follow you around the room, though its head never betrays the movement. A tongue that can snag a cricket from halfway across the cage. [Crickets. Don’t get me started on crickets. And mealworms!] Scaly skin that peels and sheds, a slooow process, much like everything else a chameleon does. And, in our case, fleshy colored two-toed feet. Upon closer inspection, apparently you can see five separate toes, but this mama never got that close, so our chameleon had creepy two-toed feet.) Now I didn’t want the poor thing to die, but chameleons have a shorter life-span than most lizards, so if this was its time, I fully accepted it.


As I wrestled with my emotions, my “soft-hearted” teen, came in, anxious to help. He told Archer to hold on while he ran off to the kitchen. There, he filled a paper plate with whipped cream. Of course, we only had enough whipped cream to fill half of a plate, so the other half was filled with vanilla yogurt. Drippy, sticky yogurt. Once the plate was full, my teen hid around the corner in my room and told Archer to cry loud enough that his sister would hear and come running in.


→ → Cue the sobs. ←←


The boys could hear my daughter’s footsteps, and my teen was at the ready.


“Hey, Archer, what’s…”


*S*m*A*s*H* went the paper plate, catching her on the side of the head, smearing whipped cream and yogurt into her hair and ear, and oozing down her shirt. Not to mention, on my carpet, the bedroom door, and somehow, on the dresser across the room.


Sobs turned to laughter, tangled again with sobs, but ultimately resulting in more laughter.


My daughter yelled a string of words I shouldn’t say here, and chaos ensued.



But … Archer was over the worst of his tears.


Kevin walked back into the house, wondering why the shower was running at 11:45 pm, and why no one was asleep yet— as if bedtime is ever quiet and peaceful around here.


If there’s one thing my kids have learned over the years, the best way to make one sibling feel better is to torture another. Works. Every. Time.


If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, this house is going to be quiet when those kids are gone. Dead chameleon sobs and yogurt-covered profanities are the soundtracks of parenting. And someday, I will miss this, snot on the comforter and all.


Archer and “Python”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here