The Road Less Traveled

by Peggy Sweeney

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
an excerpt from The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

In April of 1975, my best friend, my dad, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. There were no last goodbyes, no I love yous. The paramedics assured us that he had not suffered. But the pain and suffering our family was to endure over the next several months and years was monumental.

I remember thinking about how I wished I could ease mom’s hurt just a little. I wanted to give her the ability to forget her visions of dad’s last moments with her. She saw my dad die. How traumatic it must have been for her. Not being able to save him caused her much guilt. I felt so helpless. There was nothing I or anyone could do or say to fix the problem. He was gone. It was so final.

All at once, I had to deal with emotions and feelings I had never had before: guilt that I wasn’t there at that moment with mom, anger, the gut-wrenching sense of loss. As an introvert, I wanted to be left alone to grieve, but my family needed me more.

My younger sister was away at college and had not seen dad since January. Someone told my seventeen-year-old brother that he would have to assume the role of the man of the house. So much had to be done to prepare for the wake and funeral. Mom—usually the robust, take-charge person—could not even choose the suit dad was to wear. All her basic thought processes had shut down.

While making the funeral arrangements, mom and I sat before the funeral director and answered his mundane questions. I remember walking into the casket display room with row upon row of caskets. I felt repulsed. Mom was so distraught that she asked me to select the one I liked best, whichever one I thought daddy would want. I chose green. He was Irish.

The most horrifying experience of all was seeing my dad in the casket for the first time. No one is ever prepared for that. The following days are something of a blur. Bits and pieces of memory rise to the surface and cause my mind to wander. The seemingly unending hours of standing and greeting relatives and friends, sharing with them over and over again how dad had died;  assuring them we would all be okay. But would we? I knew it was a lie.

The periods of uncontrollable sobbing, the vile smell of the flowers in the funeral home, the pall-draped casket at the church, the seemingly long ride to the cemetery. And finally, saying our last goodbyes to daddy. It was time for us to begin a life without our husband and father. It felt as if we would never be okay again.

It was at that time I believe that I started on “the road less traveled.” In years to come, I chose the path that led me eventually to the funeral service.

Copyright Peggy Sweeney

About the Author: Peggy Sweeney began her career in the funeral profession in 1990. Before retirement, Peggy had developed and taught countless seminars on coping with traumatic loss and grief for professionals and families. Peggy also hosted monthly support groups: Comfort and Conversation for bereaved spouses as well as Halo of Love for parents who have had a child die. Over the years, she has continued to be a positive influence on emergency response professionals and military personnel. A native of Chicago, Peggy has also lived in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, and Texas before calling Dayton, Ohio her home. Peggy has three children: Jenny, Tim, and Bethany. She enjoys reading, crocheting, and spending time with her family and friends especially her young grandson, Jake.

No stranger to grief, Peggy has experienced the sudden death of her dad in 1975, the slow death of her mother to illness in 2002, the death of her brother 24 hours after his birth when she was 12 years old, the suicide death of her 49-year-old brother-in-law, the years of waiting for her estranged son to contact his family. But the most painful grief she has felt is the death of her baby (Noel) due to an ectopic pregnancy.

Contact Peggy  peggy@sweeneyalliance.org

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