CHESTER — Every funeral home is a place of sadness.
On Friday at King's Funeral Home in Chester, as the large Fisher and Howze families prepared for today when three of their own who died in a crash Christmas Eve will be buried, sadness was not a strong enough word.
Grief is not strong enough when a family is so loved the community needs a high school gymnasium for enough room for the triple funeral.
This family, large and loving, with people in Chester and Edgemoor, Catawba and Rock Hill, is just plain heart-broken.
"No family can prepare for three funerals," said Donna Fisher, a sister of Darrell and Jerilyn Fisher who died in the crash, along with Jerilyn's son, William Breon Fisher.
No family can ever prepare for the heartache, the loss, the terrible deaths in a crash off of U.S. 521 in Lancaster County. But because the car went off a bridge into a railroad bed, the car and these people were not found until Tuesday.
"We just are trying to get through, to be strong together," said another sister, Carole Blake Fisher, as she stood in the parking lot of historic King's Funeral Home. The family went inside to try to deal with three times the grief, three times the loss, three times the brutal reality of the expense of trying to hold three funerals.
Moses Caldwell, funeral director since 1964, has had to use all his skills, all his experience, to help this family deal with the losses, and the difficulty of a funeral home in Chester, a funeral at Lewisville High School in Richburg, burial at a church in Edgemoor, and family in all those places.
Caldwell once had a family of four that died in car crash on Saluda Road in the 1970s that had a single funeral, but funerals of this size are rare.
"There is nothing that can be said to make the heartache of three people passing go away," Caldwell said. "This service will be on the last day of the year. The family faces a new year without their loved ones. What we can do, what the community can do, is reach out to them with love and compassion."
The Rev. Rebecca Edwards of Faith Temple Holiness Church will today, after almost five decades of helping families, perform her first eulogy for three people.
"There is no precedent for me, so with faith, as I have tried to help the family in their faith, we shall show strength," Edwards said.
The youngest who died, William Breon at just age 16, helped Edwards at the church, directed a youth choir - anything Edwards needed.
"This is a fine family - that young man was a fine young man with unlimited potential," Edwards said. "This family loved people - and they were loved."
The funeral for all three family members starts at 2 p.m. today at Lewisville High School in Richburg. Burial will follow at the Bethel United Methodist Church cemetery on Killian Road in northeastern Chester County, just west of Landsford Canal near the Catawba River.
That country church cemetery on a bumpy road is surrounded by tall pines. The dirt is sacred. Only the best can dig three graves for one family for one service when all three died in such a way that is so painful.
For the families of black deceased, that means the family of the late Lee Robinson, known forever as "The Gravedigger," will dig those three graves to sit all in a row.
This morning, before the sun rises, Ray Robinson and his nephew Pharod Carter, and a cousin, Tevin Fair, will arrive at the cemetery. The men will unload a small hoe, and as gently as possible, without disturbing any other graves, scoop out enough earth for three graves.
The final shaping will be done by hand, with care, as these men try to block out death times three for just one family.
"I don't know this family, but I know what happened and it is terrible," said Pharod Carter, who has dug so many hundreds of graves. "In this job, what you do is get it done early, so that the family can have it nice when they arrive."
And after the preacher's words are said at Lewisville High School today about Darrell Fisher, Jerilyn Fisher and William Breon Fisher , the line of hundreds of cars will head to that cemetery.
Caldwell will organize all so that family does not have to.
Then as the sun sets tonight, after the family leaves to try to deal with the new year arriving with such pain, Pharod Carter and the others with the gravedigging business will fill in the dirt. Light from the last moon of 2011 will guide the last shovels of dirt placed atop those caskets.
Pharod Carter will not leave until his work is finished, to honor three people who died together.
"You try to block out what it is you are doing - but when it is three...," Carter said. "It is too much heartache for one family."
Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 firstname.lastname@example.org