The Darkest Day of My Life: The Funeral

Probably every person alive remembers the happiest moment of their life and when we recall that moment or occasion or person that brought us such joy that we smile from the inside out and get butterflies in our stomach! Thankfully,  I can remember several “happiest moments” in my life, and I hope you can, too!

Our darkest moments — those days when we cannot believe we managed to continue to breathe — are the ones we want to forget, yet these moments seems to plague us forever.  These heavy, painful times dig right into the core of our heart and won’t let go.  The pain of grief gnaws at us continuously for a long time, and when the grip finally loosens we realize the pain is still there ready to attack us again and again.

I remember so vividly the darkest day of my life.  This day stands out among all others, and there was no other time since that moment that I have wished I would have died on the spot.  I prayed my heart would stop beating because living felt too painful.  It hurt way too much to see what I was seeing and to feel what I was feeling. I’m pretty certain that hell must be much like this kind of pain and torment.

Standing in the cemetery following the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer, my mother whispered to me to place a rose on the casket as my sister was being lowered into the ground.  I can feel it now — the racing of my heart, the sweating of my palms, the pounding of my head, and the sick feeling in my stomach like I’m going to pass out and die.

“NO!!!!!!!!!!!!” I screamed so loud and so long that two men came to my side and gently put their arms around me and carried me away.  I kept screaming and thrashing, “NO!  Please, NO!  Don’t put her in the ground!  Please, please don’t do this!”

As I mentioned in the previous post ,  until my sister Carmella died I really hadn’t had any kind of experience with death other than the death of a pet (we lived on a farm, so losing farm animals was a pretty commonplace thing to happen).  Nobody prepared me at all as to what a funeral would be like.  How would I know?  You have no idea how many times I wish someone — anyone — would have explained what “viewing a body” was like.  It was terrifying to me!  The moment I saw my sister I ran up to the casket and grabbed hold of her hand and placed my face on hers and began sobbing!  Following the sobs were shrieks!  My, God!  Her body didn’t feel like her soft, warm body any more!  I was scared out of my mind and let out such a loud scream that many people left the funeral home because of my uncontrollable sobbing.  Again, why didn’t anyone prepare me?  I guess death and all that it implies is simply too difficult for most people to talk about.

The climax of this horror came when the casket was being placed into the ground.  I can remember laying the single, long-stemmed red rose on top of my sister’s casket and then being walked off by those men. I assume they were from the funeral home.  I don’t remember much more after that and I’m glad that I don’t.  I don’t want to revisit that deep, dark, pit of hell again.

Sometimes people overlook talking to children when there is a death in the family.  They think kids are too young to understand, or that they won’t “get” what’s happening.  Or, they are far too upset themselves to talk to children.  In my case, I was fifteen — not a young child by any means — but I didn’t have a clue about this thing called death.  What I did have is a love for my sister that ran deeper than the ocean.  And, now I was looking at her with her eyes shut, laying in something that looked foreign to me, and her body felt hard and cold, and now she was put in the dark (the lid to the casket was closed), and she was being put into the ground — alone.  All alone.  And, it was traumatizing to me.

If there is one thing I’d like to accomplish with this post it’s this:  PLEASE someone — anyone — talk to parents and children alike and help prepare them just a bit for what a funeral is like.  Don’t assume that they already know.  When a child dies, a parent’s heart is already broken and shredded and pierced too much to do anything other than grieve.  So, pastors, funeral directors, clergy, nurses, doctors, friends — anyone — PLEASE talk to the children — the siblings. Please remember that brothers and sisters grieve, too.  They grieve long and hard, and they’re so afraid.  Afraid to ask questions.  Afraid of what is happening.  Afraid that this will happen to their parents or to them, too. A sibling has a million and one questions to ask about death, but very rarely do they have anyone who is there to answer the questions! 

It was much later in life when I finally came to an “okay place” in my heart, mind, and soul about my sister’s funeral.  I understood a bit more about what happens when the physical body dies.  I understood more about the traditions that we practice here in the United States when someone dies.  I have now gone to many viewings and funerals and I understand a bit better what happens during a funeral and burial. I will never like going to a viewing or a funeral, but I no longer have nightmares or crushing fear.

Child loss is a terrifying, painful thing to go through for families.  So many times we focus mainly on the mother of child loss.  I’m not sure why, but I suppose mothers most often grieve more openly and it’s easier to identify with their pain.  BUT, fathers and siblings grieve, too.  Everyone grieves differently, but everyone does grieve the loss of a child.

It is my prayer that we can grow to talk more openly about death, the process of death, the rituals that we practice when someone dies, and the ensuing grief that follows so that together we can provide the support that is needed to endure this pain.

june 23 - sunset 018 - editNever do I look at a sunrise or sunset without thinking of my sister Carmella.  I picture her sitting in heaven with the angels smiling.  I envision her wrapped in so much love that she is warm and feels light as a feather.  I see her singing with her mischievous eyes twinkling.  I see her not in the ground, but living among the angels with God.  I see her waiting in heaven for that grand time when she will welcome me and we will be together forever.

God bless every person who has lived through the pain of child loss.  May your sunrises and sunsets be reminders of the beauty of heaven — that wonderful reunion where there will be no more tears ever again!

Love,

Clara

You may also like

25 Comments

  1. I have been to many funerals in my life. Friends, my father, my father-in-law, grandparents, etc. I even watched as they left this earth for their heavenly home. Nothing prepared me for the unexpected death of my 22 year old son and having to tell his father, my ex-husband. Nothing prepared me for planning the funeral, for the visitation, for the funeral service, or any of the things, events and emotions that followed. People are not taught much about death, about grief and certainly, no one seems to have been taught how to treat and talk to those grieving the loss of a child, no matter what age that child was. It will soon be one year and people expect me to have moved on, to get over it, to not talk about my son, and many other expectations because they are too uneasy with me and my grief.

    1. Katherine, Thank you so much for your comment. Oh, how much I “amen” everything you’ve said! People are so silent on the topic of child loss, and it leaves us devastated on so many levels because we are left feeling like there’s nobody to talk to while carrying this heavy, heartbreaking grief. I’m so very sorry for the death of your son. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

      1. Today would have been my youngest son’s 51st birthday. He passed 11 years ago from a massive heart attack at 39. Sadly,less than 5 months earlier, we lost our other son, 41,to cancer! Both sons gone in such a short period of time. How could this unimagined horror happen? How did I survive when I wanted to die? One day at a time…sometimes half a day…sometimes an hour. There are still days when I could curl up and cry all day long. Our faith and our church community helped so much, as did family and friends. But did anyone call today to say any little thing about our son? No. It saddens me that everyone forgot him and me. His sister did comment on Facebook, but more forgot. My prayers to all of you who are still grieving love ones. I know it will never stop.

        1. Lea, Reading somethig like this breaks my heart. I think that so many times others “forget” or they “mean to put a card in the mail” or they “want to call but get busy.” What they don’t understand is that one little recognition of our child(ren) who are no longer with us means the absolute world to us! I’m so very sorry for your losses — and special blessings to you today as your especially remember your youngest son’s birthday today.

          1. Katherine, I can understand your pain. I found my 35 yo daughter dead in her bed on Aug. 25,2012.Her 9 yo son came in to tell me that something was wrong with his mommy. He always slept with her. I ran to her room. She was cold, stiff and blue. I began to scream oh my God, she’s dead. Her babies didn’t know what to do . we were here alone. I still have daily flashbacks of how she looked, felt, smelled. somedays I think I’m going crazy. Everyone tells me I have to be strong for the boys(whom I’m now raising) and for my husband and for my other 2 children. But I am not strong. A part of me died that day. I can’t grieve in front on anyone because it upsets them. I hate this.

        2. I understand your feelings the same thing happened to me 6 1/2 years ago. I agree with the people seeming to forget my loneliness started a few days after the funeral and no one wants to remember my daughter and her life. She was twenty-five and left behind a son and husband and he even took my only connection to my daughter and left for me to never have her son in my life again! So I had two losses at the same time my daughter and grandson!

  2. I am the sister of an angel~ My big brother died when I was 15. I also was shocked when the body at the funeral home was cold and felt like plastic. I talk about my brother sometimes. I have graduated from high school and then college. I have matured and achieved many things but when it comes to my sweet brother I am still that 15 year old waiting for him to come blazing into the driveway with his radio blaring sometimes. I have matured in some many ways but there are still days I sit down and cry for the time that has gone by without my brother. I make an effort to connect with people who have also gone through this tragedy because despite people’s best intentions you can’t relate until you have been through it. There are times when simply crying together will do so much good. I had counselors but they didn’t understand the void that was left. I would love to start a foundation that supports a camp for children who have lost a parent or sibling. I will forever be my brother’s baby sister!

    1. Steph, I’m so very sorry for the loss of your brother. I can so identify with you saying that you are still that 15-year-old. Truer words have never been spoken.

      I love the idea of your staring a foundation that support a camp for cildren who have lost a parent or sibling. Why not check into the possibility of that more? I know you’d get lots of support!!!

  3. When I lost my eighteen year old son to muscular dystrophy on October 13, 2013, I was numb and could not comprehend what was happening or function. My sixteen year old son gently took my phone from me and called my ex husband, his father and broke the news. It amazes me the man that came out in him that day. I grieve for my son in heaven but also for my son who had to grow up so fast on that awful day and who has to cope like you did. My love and prayers to all who grieve their losses.

  4. I too had been through family deaths. My dear Mother died in Feb.2011. I was just doing better on her being gone when in Feb 2012 my son and only child died suddenly. Nothing had prepared me for that! ! Then May of this year my brothers 21 year old daughter was killed in an accident. I know the pain he is feeling and I don’t know how to help him. Plus he now is raising her 3 year old son. Who doesn’t understand where Mommy is.

    1. I will never claim to understand the pain in this life. Sometimes nothing makes sense, and this is one of those times. I’m so very, very sorry. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  5. We are not prepared for death because society as a whole does not talk about death & dying as part of life, but everyone knows it is. Then, when we must face it, we are at a total loss, not knowing what to do or how to do to the best of our economical & emotional state. There should be advocated working at the funeral homes….I would love to do that.

    1. Connie, you’re so right about society not really talking about death and dying as being part of life. We have such a fear to even mention the word “death” that we seem to avoid it at all costs.

      I think adovocacy (beginning at the funeral homes) would be wonderful. I also believe that our churches need to better prepare us for losses — in a very practical way. We talk of heaven and that part of death, BUT we fail to mention the practical things like choosing a funeral home, the details of a service, the burial, the cost, and then all of the many terrifying emotions that cycle through our minds. Faith and grief are not synonymous. A person can have the strongest faith in the world, yet deeply grieve the loss of their child for all the days on this earth. We needs lots of help in the area of how to grieve.

  6. Clara, I so appreciate all of your posts. It is such an encouragement to me and to others I know that are going through life after the loss of a child. We are never the same as before. People tend to think that children are too young to understand death so they don’t really say much to the siblings. I was 9 when my little sister died and although I didn’t understand everything that was going on, I did realize the finality of it.

    Eleven years ago this month I said goodbye to my two younger children, ages 24 and 27. The only thing that kept me going was that there was Someone stronger than me Who knew what I was going through and was there for me.
    I desperately needed to know that I was not facing this alone. Katherine, please know that you are not alone. Those of us who have been there are still going through this. There is no time limit on grief. Just as when your life changed forever with the birth of your child, so it changes again when they leave us. Once we were whole, now we are not. We learn to live with our handicap but we never get over it. We see the world through different eyes now. It is part of our history. You are right when you say that people are uneasy. They are reminded in knowing us that life is fragile and uncertain. But there is hope. Maybe not in this world, but God never promised that we would end our grieving here. That is reserved for heaven for there is no grief there. I thank Him for that.

    1. Pat, Thank you so much for your beautiful thoughts. I’m so very, very sorry for the loss of your two sons. There is so much pain in this world — so much that we’ll never be able to understand or explain. Yet, we anxiously wait for heaven. Just the word “heaven” excites me! I envision so much peace and beauty and love! And, you said it best — “there is no grief there.” That one thought keeps me going. Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. My daughter lost her husband and her 6 year old daughter and her 4 year old son, when a man decided to drink and drive hitting their vehicle head on, the drunk was on the interstate going the wrong way. My daughter and her 2 year old, were both still in the hospitial from their injuries at the time of the funerals. A lot of people thought she would not have closure for missing the funerals. I think she was spared more of a pain full event. When her and the baby was both well enough we as a family went to the cemetery, she read letters she wrote to each , and we all let balloons go in the sky.

  8. Thank you for your blog. I have lost two sons. One 4 months after I married his dad and then last June I lost my son two weeks after he graduated from high school I threw him a party for graduation and when he left my house that day I told him that I would see him for the 4th of July and instead I was preparing his funeral. It has been a long 13 months and in that time I have been diagnosed with cancer. I look at the cloud and sunsets and see him there. I also have butterflies that come to see me and I do talk to them/

    Michelle

  9. We lost my daughter almost ten years ago when she was six. My other daughter at the time was almost three and they were very close. She is now still struggling to this day after counseling for over eight years, medications and even inpatient hospitalizations. She has ADHD, PTSD and Anxiety disorder along with survivor’s guilt. And we did everything we could for her, talked to her, gave her things that belonged to her sister, let her talk or look at pictures and videos whenever she wants. Her two little brothers that never even met Merri know they have a sister in heaven. I still have issues also with anxiety and days I struggle to get through the day, but I also see every day the issues my daughter is still having with losing her sister. Losing a sibling can be every bit as hard as losing a child.

    1. I’m so glad you mentioned “survivor’s guilt” that often plagues living siblings. It’s something that very few have ever talked about, yet so many siblings feel. I’m so very, very sorry your your loss and also so sorry for the remaining pain that your living daughter is still struggling with. It took me years and years to work through the pain of losing my sister. Sibling loss can be a very complicated grief.

  10. Clara …Thank you what you wrote is so true..I lost my youngest son (Nick 27) to Brain cancer 10 months ago and while I was so wrapped in my own pain, my daughter was also grieving the loss of her baby brother and the only Uncle to her 3 daughters one of whom was Nick’s goddaughter. Tara found it hard to cope as she could not openly show her grief as the little ones got very upset when they saw Mummy crying (they were 4 1/2, 2 1/2 and 9 mths at the time) i had not been to many funerals, and how does one prepare for the funeral of their own child. So much is a blur, I let people take over in a lot of areas as I found it just too painful to deal with. Thankfully my daughter and I are very close as we were both with Nick and I think that binds us even closer if that is possible. We can now talk openly with one another about our feelings and what should have been done and more importantly how Nick would feel.Something needs to be set up so people grieving or facing a death of a loved one can understand the process and more importantly what to expect. We were both with Nick when he took his last breath and I stupidly thought by having an open casket I would see my son as he was before he passed…I guess not even their expertise could do that! What you described seeing your beloved sister was exactly how we both felt. Sorry I have ranted. Hugs to you xxx

  11. Honestly, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other when our son died. Looking back, I can see that our daughter didn’t have the support she needed to deal with the death of her brother. I don’t think anyone else had the insight to step in and support her. It was such an awful time. I wish I could have spared her the pain she walked through. She lost her brother…and so much more.

    1. I don’t know how parents can be the ones to give that support needed to the livng siblines. Everyone is so broken — so totally broken. Grief hits on every level, and the pain is paralyzing. Sometimes I wonder how any of us manage to muddle through the pain.

  12. When my son died in April, my daughters and I supported each other as best as we knew how. My grandchildren were aware of their uncle’s death and we talked about him very openly with all of them. My grandchildren are 10, 7, and 4. I have continued to seek support from other parents who have lost a child as I can’t not do it alone. My heart aches everyday and I’m hoping that I can find some care and support with other people who know how I feel.

    1. Toni, You are so very right. This is one walk we can’t make alone. We need the love and support of others who are traveling this same lonely, difficult road. My most sincere thoughts are with you. I’m so very sorry for the loss of your son.

  13. On Dec 19,2013 will be 2yrs since my baby brother Nace passed away at the young age of 29. Let me begin with that there are 3 of us kids and im the oldest im 38 and only girl and then theres Chris he’s 34 and then the baby of the family Nace and he was 29 when he passed away. Addiction runs deep in our family on both sides, And Nace was addict and he went to jail couple times nothing big so he would clean up and stay clean for long periods of time. One time he went to rehab was in there for good period of time. Got out stayed at home with momma and daddy was doing great. He would slip here and there drink a few beers and wasn’t much on drinking his addiction was weed, coke, meth and roxycodone pills and the xanex. He would maybe get a roxy here and there and do it but wouldn’t get carried away like befor until he met this older lady which she was probally about 10 12 years older than him and they started dating and she was no good for him. So he claimed he loved her well they kinda broke things off and didn’t see each other as much but on Thursday afternoons she knew it was his pay day she would be calling and he couldn’t see her using him for his money. We all tried talking since into him but the more we said the more we were wrong. So he started using weed more often and the roxys and xanex more than what me or momma and daddy thought. Well until the moring of Dec 19, 2011 Monday morning I had gotten up around 4:00am to get a drink well I smelt something strange in living room so my mom was getting up at 5am for work and I had left her a note said these words ” Smell like theres something dead in livingroom. I went on to bed and got up with my momma at 5am we walked into livingroom so she could smell what I had earlier. Mommas words were huh maybe Nace is just passing gas. Cause he was known for that. Well I went back to bed momma went onto work and 6:30am comes around and Naces alarm clock goes off and I hear it so im thinking hes getting up in a min hes just being lazy and its Monday am well about 15 mins go by and its still going off so then I get up go in the living room and try to wake him up and realize what that smell was. That’s the beginning of the WORST DAY OF MY LIFE. I have now found my baby brother had OD’ed off of roxys and xanex and didn’t know until autopsy report came back he had done a bunch of coke the weekend befor when he was gonna all weekend with this older lady he was so in love with. I live everyday with the reget of not checking him when I first smelt it at 4am and leaving that kinda note for my momma and just the what ifs and the whys. And top it off the middle brother Chris he’s got his own life he lives close by and married no kids but befor Nace passed Chris didn’t come around much him and Nace kinda had alil tift and wasn’t talking and Nace sent a msg to Chris to see if they could talk and Chris didn’t want to so Chris has to live with that regret. And still to this day he don’t come around much to see momma and daddy or call check on them. So I deal with my grief Nace and I were very close. And then I deal with my parents grieving as well, And its a lot to deal with and the holidays will never be the same and neither will our family its just a lost and lonely feeling. I still feel like im in a daze and this isn’t real.