by Nicole Howe

There’s no stone to lay the flowers down beside
No mention in the paper, though something clearly died
No gathering for family and friends to eulogize
It’s a death without a funeral.

Jason Gray

I still remember climbing into the backseat of my friend’s car to head to the mall for an afternoon of shopping. I was twenty-six years old and a new mom, so the chance to get away for a couple hours was welcome. As I plopped down behind my two friends seated in front, I was met with smiles and excited chatter and pop music cranking through the radio. We exchanged the typical niceties (“how-are-you?” and “tired-but-good”). I put on my seatbelt, and we drove away from my house – dancing, laughing, and singing along to whatever song came through the speakers. 

They never knew I had spent that morning crying so hard I almost threw up.

It hit me, in the backseat of that car, how strange a thing it is to experience a death without a funeral. How jarring it is to fall apart in private one moment, and in the next, to find myself climbing into a car, heading to the mall, as though the morning had all just been a bad dream. It didn’t feel right to laugh that afternoon, but I didn’t know what else to do.

My marriage, as I knew it, had just died. Some marriages unravel slowly over years and years. Mine was only three years old. With just one conversation, everything had been upended overnight, and I knew my husband and I would never – could never – be the same. The only pathway to healing, according to our counselor, would be to rebuild from the ground up. Going back wasn’t an option.

I soon found myself walking through the disorienting haze of grief, buried under a whole heap of things I needed to say goodbye to.

And I climbed into cars and laughed and danced because I thought I was supposed to.

We don’t always know what to do with these kinds of deaths – whether it’s the death of a career, the loss of an identity, the dissolution of a dream, or changing seasons of life. These losses come with no funerals, and because of that, they carry their own unique kind of suffering. There’s no protocol – no wake, no cards, no murmuring of visitors coming in and out, and no death certificates. No tangible markers to validate the grief. No physical evidence that the loss is real. Death without a funeral is collision and destruction and shattered glass with nowhere to put the pieces.

As difficult as they are, funerals give us tangible way to honor the loss, to say it mattered, and to validate grief as the proper response. They make the loss manifest, so we can better see and touch and understand it. There are reasons why we have open caskets and visitations; seeing the physical body helps us face the reality of death and provides us with closure. Funerals validate our grief, so we can embrace it and allow it to begin its work within us. The doors we close at funerals are the same doors we open to our own healing.

Deaths without funerals can be profoundly lonely, because we often suffer silently. Had my husband physically died, I would have been surrounded by loved ones and cards and comfort. But because the loss was intangible and hidden, it was challenging for anyone, including us, to recognize the true impact of what we were experiencing. Life went on as usual most days, while we reeled behind closed doors. Our outside world didn’t match our inside world, and this incongruency only added to the disorienting effects of grief.

So many among us are silently suffering. There are many kinds of deaths without funerals: estrangement in the family, friendships that drift apart, churches that split. A lot of pain that’s gone unacknowledged. A lot of hurt and grief and woundedness that no one sees. As I recently said to a friend, “there are so many places in my life where the pain was very real…but I didn’t have the bruises to prove it.” The outside doesn’t match the inside. What are we to do?

My friend’s response? “Write the bruises.”

Tell your story. Bring the pain forward and out of hiding. Speak it out loud. Write it down. However you choose, give a voice to what happened, and in so doing, you’ll give voice to all the other silent sufferers going through their own hidden losses. I think this is advice for all of us. Hold one another’s hand, look each other in the eyes, and acknowledge the loss. Then recognize grief as the proper response.

This is the funeral.

When I think of this idea, I can’t help but think of the Cross. Christ is God made manifest. His love and goodness and transcendence became physical and immanent. A person we could touch.

And then He became sin and brokenness and died on a cross. A real body, buried. Wrapped in cloth. Placed in a tomb.

Christ bore our sins, yes. And He also bore every death without a funeral, every silent tear shed, every hidden hurt – with real flesh and blood. Being in Christ means every one of those hidden wounds was made tangible and acknowledgedand given a proper burial.

Jesus, the Word became flesh, wrote our bruises.  

And then He was resurrected with the scars. By the grace of God – and many years of hard work – my marriage experienced its own kind of resurrection. But we, too, still bear the scars. We will never find complete healing in this life, which is why we cling to the promise that all our tears will one day be wiped away. What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Restoration is coming.

To all you silent sufferers, you have permission to grieve. Your pain is real. May you find the courage to give voice to the loss and continue the difficult journey toward healing – to the day when all will be well.

Until then, let’s help each other write the bruises.

Nicole Howe is a writer, speaker, wife, and homeschooling mom to four kids. She has a Master’s Degree in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University where she discovered the invaluable role of art and literature for communicating Christian truth. She is a co-editor and regular contributor to Cultivating Magazine (, an online publication for artist Christians who long to live whole and healthy lives. Nicole is also currently contracted with BibleProject to develop a children’s Bible curriculum for homeschooling families. More info can be found at www.OneStory.Bible.




Cover photo by Nicolette Meade on Unsplash