Grief Journal: The Casket

I wasn’t home when my son died. That Monday, I was 150 miles away at a trade show, working. It took me three hours by car to get home, as fast as I could, hoping so much that when I got there none of what I’d heard on the phone was true. 

Hoping my son was still alive, and well. That our family and lives hadn’t been ripped apart.

By the time I got home, my son had been taken away to the medical examiner’s office. I had left him the day before in the morning. We’d hugged and kissed. I’d told him to be good. It was the last time I saw him alive. 

I wouldn’t see him again until three days later, at the funeral home.

I needed to see him. I had been begging to see him. I knew there was a process that had to be followed. But I needed to see him for myself. There was just a level of unreality to it all, even thought I’d spoken to the police, the EMS, the fire department. I’d held my husband as he wept, inconsolable. I’d hugged my daughter and oldest son. Neighbors and friends had started coming by, to sit in our house and cry with us.

But I needed to see him.

Finally, our lovely and compassionate funeral home director told me I could come. It was late on Wednesday, after hours, but he told me to come anyway because he is kind and knew I needed to. He prepared me for what I was going to see, as gently as he could, and took me into the room where my son lay in his casket.

My son. My gorgeous, bright, amazing boy. In a casket.

How can you be ready for that? How can you possibly prepare yourself? I imagine parents of children with cancer or other diseases, in their darkest, most private moments, must think about the possibility even as their minds reject it. But my son had been vibrantly healthy—so alive—just a few days before. The idea of him lying in a coffin had never crossed my mind, never been a whisper of a thought.

Yet there he was, lying in the outfit I’d picked out for him, the one he’d worn to his grandmother’s funeral the previous month. The shirt and tie that made him look so grown up, I’d thought at the time, and that now made him look so incredibly young and vulnerable. 

How did it feel?

Like all the light drained from the room. Like I aged a hundred years and my body couldn’t stand up under its own weight. Like I’d been struck by lightning and every nerve, bone and sinew fried.

Like my heart had been ripped out of my body and put in a casket.

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