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Private Sorrow – Part 1 “The Funeral”

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Private Sorrow


Martyn Ballestero

“A short journal about adult children dealing with the final days of their parent’s life.”

This was written for the benefit of my immediate family. Knowing that it was impossible for us all to go and see Dad as he began to near the end, I thought it important to chronicle these events. No matter how mundane, I wanted to remember everything. Much can be lost over the years in the relating of experiences by word of mouth. So I wanted to record things big and small as they happened and as I saw them.

Table of Contents

The Funeral                  Part 1

The Fear                        Part 2

The Flight                     Part 3

With Dad                      Part 4

Day-By-Day                  Part 5

Epilogue                        Part 6

Part 1

The Funeral

The audience is solemn faced and quiet as the musicians do their best to play a comforting hymn. I stand at the head of the casket. Friends and neighbors have just paid their last respects in single file. All eyes are on the family as they stand. They are broken and tearful as they mouth their final farewells. Shoulders are heaving. They cling to each other for support.

As the pastor, I know I need to go and try to comfort them, especially the especially the widow. Somehow, I’m frozen in place. My head says to go, but my body is not responding.

Bro. Lee Silver, a faithful and well-loved member of the congregation lies in a beautiful casket beside me on the left. He had lived a good life. He was a worshipper and a pastor’s friend. His dear wife had nursed him through a bout with cancer. With that seemingly behind him, he then found himself dealing with what was symptomatic of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The final report from the doctor said, “Jacob Crutchfield’s Disease.” I’d never heard of that before.

In the hospital room a few weeks prior, Sister Silvers and her oldest daughter told me about the dark side of the disease. Among others, they’d listed:

  • Confusion.
  • Loss of memory. Especially short term.
  • Involuntary shaking or jerking of the limbs.
  • Degrees of hallucination.
  • Talking to non-visible people
  • Picking up imaginary objects and moving them.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Inability to swallow with ease.
  • Just eating a bite or two a day of solids.
  • Pursing lips at food, fluids, or pills.
  • Dehydration.
  • Not recognizing family members.
  • Inability to properly void fluids.
  • Closing of the eyes most of the time, even when someone is talking to them.
  • Vacant look in opened, yet unseeing eyes.
  • Incoherent mutterings and ramblings.
  • Voice loss. Communicating in whispers, quiet whispers at best.

“Oh no God,” I remember thinking. These symptoms fit my father to a tee. He’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and severe prostate problems. They feared it might be cancer. And now, Mom was waiting for the report to come back on Dad’s Bone Marrow test.

It seemed that whatever symptoms Bro. Silvers had, in about a 3-4 weeks, Daddy would have the same problem. It became scary and almost prophetic.

Two weeks ago, while in the hospital, Bro. Silvers had quit opening his eyes to talk to visitors. He couldn’t or wouldn’t swallow. Malnutrition and dehydration had become a serious issue. Next came the transfer to a nursing home. Within a week, it was like the Lord had said, “That’s enough.” He sent for Bro. Silvers, relieving him of his struggle. My wife, Marcia and I had heard the nurse tell Sis. Silvers that, “The Lord has just taken your husband home.” We hadn’t wanted to intrude too deep or too long into the family’s private grief. It was sweet how the Lord had allowed us to be there when we were needed.

I looked at Sis. Silvers now. She stood looking down at her husband. Her eyes were red and wet. Her hands nervously worked new creases into her freshly ironed hanky. My wife had materialized beside me, available to help minister. The funeral director, a fine young man, had gone to the widow’s side, his arm around her giving her support. He was doing my job. I felt very guilty, but still I couldn’t seem to bring myself to respond to her need.

My ears alerted me back to reality. I could tell that the organ was playing alone. The piano had stopped. Why? Then without turning my head, I knew why. The sobs of the piano player were deep and heart wrenching. Yet I knew she wasn’t mourning like that for Bro. Silvers. She was deep in her own private sorrow.

I knew immediately why the pianist was crying. I knew because she’s my sister, Carlene Branham. I wanted to cry with her. I felt just like she did. I made myself maintain composure. We had to finish this service. Our personal pain couldn’t be allowed to be so transparent, now.

With the help of the Lord we all escorted our departed friend and brother to his final earthly abode, Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.  I couldn’t find my Minister’s “Star” Book, so I was compelled to make all of my remarks from heart and the “committal” from memory. The congregation stood around the gravesite and sang: “In The Sweet Bye And Bye.”

As we left the cemetery in the funeral car, I felt a sense of foreboding. Not even the lighthearted conversation from the funeral director helped. I had to go home and pack. My flight to California was early in the morning. Tomorrow, I’d be with Mom and Dad.

Written by Martyn Ballestero

February 9, 2010 at 11:24 am

Posted in Family, Grief, Life

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