She was young and pretty and so much in love. Fresh from her honeymoon she had so much to look forward to – many years of happiness together with her husband, lots of holidays, perhaps children in time. The kinds of expectations many married women have.

Weeks after returning from her honeymoon she became ill. The prognosis was not good, but she fought hard for several years, and for a time was in remission. Unfortunately, she died.

I couldn’t view her face at the removal because I didn’t want to have that memory. Better to recall the beautiful young girl she had been. I felt for her husband and how devastated he was – and is. I couldn’t find any words of comfort, because words seem so meaningless in the face of such tragedy.

A former colleague rang me one morning some years ago to tell me his young son had died suddenly. The boy died in his arms, and he was telling me the news through his sobs, unable to comprehend the death. Nor could I, though we lost our son Alan in 1989. Alan was just 22 months, and though his death was expected after a long illness, we were utterly desolate. I could only imagine my friend’s feelings and his immense sense of loss.

Some years ago a neighbour’s teenage daughter died in a road accident and it was heartbreaking at the funeral to see not only the stunned parents and brothers, but also the freeflowing tears of her classmates. What do you say? “I’m sorry for your loss” seems so inadequate.

When my father died I was glad my brother spoke at the Mass because I simply couldn’t. It was different when my grandmother Sarah and aunt Betty died. Somehow I was more composed and was able to put the words on paper and read them out.

The earliest death I can remember was a young neighbour. He wasn’t much older than me, and in those days it was usual for people to say their goodbyes by calling to the house where the dead were laid out in their beds. I can still see his face to this day, and     my fright at seeing a corpse. Of course I said nothing.

A friend of ours rang one Christmas morning to say her father, who had come to stay with her, had died in his bed and could we come over. Our own kids were young at the time, but not so small that we couldn’t leave them for a couple of hours to call on our friend and sympathise. It was one strange Christmas Day and yet we found the words to talk, perhaps because I didn’t know the dead man.

I find funerals very tough, perhaps because they bring back memories of Alan’s, even though it’s almost 27 years ago. I try to avoid them as best I can, though that’s not always possible. I could have gone to several in the past few weeks, but finding the strength to go is difficult.

One of the things I love about being Irish is the enormous support people provide to one another when they are visited by a bereavement. Some removals I have been at have been thronged. In rural areas especially the strong sense of community means a family is never alone in their grief. I commend them for that.