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Home Writings Essays The Greatest Loss

The Greatest Loss

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I have faced the loss of many people over the course of my fifty years. I looked death in the face for the first time when

I just six years old. My bus driver was shot and killed during hunting season the fall I entered first grade. His name was Pete Smith. My mom told me he had been killed. My mom also took me to the funeral home for the viewing. I remember looking at him lying in the casket. I touched him. Cool and firm. Not really understanding death, but knowing that I would never see him again. How did I know this. I knew because being a farm girl, even one so young, I had seen death of animals – critters raised for the sole purpose of putting food on our table. I knew what death meant, even though I did not understand it. I can still see his face in my mind’s eye.


Than, when I was seven, I lost my grandfather. At eight, my grandmother. These were my father’s parents. I did not know them very well. They lived in a small yellow house down the road from us. I vaguely remember visiting them. My grandfather an old man with gray hair sitting in his chair. My grandmother, I don’t really remember except for a picture I have of her.

A few years passed before I saw death again and then it was my Aunt Mildred, my mother’s sister-in-law. I knew Aunt Mildred fairly well as we used to visit her and Uncle Dave quite often and they, in turn, visited us. I was sixteen when Aunt Mildred died.  I went with my mom to the funeral. I don’t remember seeing her in the casket. But I remember her death.

Then, when I was eighteen, I faced one the hardest deaths of all, my brother. I will  never forget that morning as long as I live. I awoke to hear my mother’s voice crying, “Oh, my God,” over and over. I opened my bedroom door and witnessed my sister helping my mother into her slacks. My mother – strong and independent – being helped into her slacks? Unbelievable. I followed them downstairs and heard the news from the state troopers as they heard it. My brother, Perry Crosby, killed by a hit and run driver just a few miles from our house. His body was found at around 3:00 a.m. I went to the funeral home with my sisters and my brother went with his wife. I viewed Perry’s body lying in the casket. I remembered my bus driver and how he had looked. Perry looked like Perry but with the same waxy look that Pete had had. I touched him and touched the same cool firmness that Pete’ had had. I cried and suffered and cried and suffered with this tragic loss. It took me years to realize that I suffered for my mother’s loss more than I did for my own.

Then I lost a child – a stillborn. Some would say that doesn’t count because she never took a breath. Unless you have carried a child for nine months, you would probably side with those, but we mother’s know. It counts. Multiple congenital birth defects that were “incompatible with life”, as one doctor put it. I had a viewing for those in the immediate family. I can still see her in my mind’s eye lying in that little casket.

As the years passed, I lost my father-in-law, my father, my mother-in-law and my stepfather. Each dying in his or her own way. My father-in-law to a brain tumor; my father took his own life; my mother-in-law to lung cancer; and my stepfather to complications from years of alcohol consumption. People gone forever. Each loss leaving a hole that no one can ever fill. Each funeral home viewing clearly in my mind.

The most recent loss was that of my mother. I had watched her closely. I used to visit nearly daily. I loved her dearly. I knew she was gaining in years, but it seemed as though she would go on for a long time, yet. Then, the unthinkable. A sudden illness, a hospital stay that lead to a nursing home, some health regained, but an emotional illness came upon her. I think my husband and I were the only ones to see it. She was depressed and homesick. I wanted her to go home – her home – the one she had known for nearly fifty years. Alas, that was not the case. She died in the nursing home, unexpectedly, just a few days after her 79th birthday.

I did not go to her funeral. I went with my husband, my son and my daughter to a viewing at the funeral home. My mother lying in a casket just as Perry had laid and Pete had laid. My mother, yet not my mother. The same waxy look. The same cool firmness to her skin. My mother, gone. No more visits. No more conversations. No more shopping trips to Belfast. No more phone calls. No more soft, warm skin under my hand when I touched her. My mother no more.

Only four years have passed since my mother’s death. I don’t think I grieved immediately. Though I knew in my head she was gone, my heart wanted her to be close. I kept her alive inside for quite a while. Then I began to miss her horribly. It was as if her death had finally penetrated my wall. I think of her daily. Everything I do and am is because of her. I loved her so. I miss her so. Outside of my husband, she was my best friend. The picture of her lying in that casket clings to my mind. Her death has been the greatest loss I have ever suffered.

I hate to think about the deaths to come. I don’t want to lose the people I love the most of all: my son, my daughter or my husband. Children should not die before their parents, but because my mother lost a son, I know that it can happen. I don’t think about it because I don’t want it to happen. I hope it isn’t ever a reality for me.

Unfortunately, there is one death that I do think about. The death of my husband. Statistics show that women often outlive men. I don’t want to outlive my husband. I don’t want to face that death. I will lose half of my life when my husband dies. I don’t dwell on it, but I know that it could be a reality for me. If that day ever comes, I will go on, but I won’t want to.

If my husband dies before me, it will be the greatest loss of my life.

Last Updated on Sunday, 28 November 2010 12:36  


The windows are both trimmed out in Amanda's room! They might not be perfect, but certainly good enough for Camp Littlemore. Given the challenge of trimming around both drywall and pine wainscoting on one of the windows, I think we did a fairly decent job.