The Saddest Day of the Year

I posted this blog a couple of years ago, but am reposting it today, Holy Saturday. And in remembrance of my dad, who died unexpectedly – 35 years ago this past Wednesday.



“What’s the saddest day of the year?” My dad was driving the Ford Country Squire station wagon, and I was sitting in the front, because my sister wasn’t with us. Otherwise, I’d be in the back, staring at his head. We were headed downtown for confession at Saint Francis chapel.

I thought about his question. “The day after Christmas?” That seemed logical.

“No. Think about it.” He took a drag of his Kent cigarette. To a Frenchman, it’s the Eiffel Tower, to a Dutchman, it’s a pretty flower, to an Indian, it’s a mon-u-ment, to a smoker, it’s a Kent!

“The last day of summer?” He shook his head, and looked exasperated. We pulled up next to the curb. Providence was quiet on a Saturday afternoon. He turned off the engine and faced me.

“No, the saddest day of the year is next Saturday. Holy Saturday. And do you know why?” He didn’t wait for me to try to figure it out. “It’s because Jesus is dead. He died on Good Friday, and didn’t rise from the dead until Easter Sunday. So Holy Saturday is the saddest day of the year. Come on, let’s go.” We got out of the car and walked on the sidewalk to the chapel. My dad wasn’t a hand-holder; he just expected you to keep up, so I walked fast to stay with his long strides.

He pushed the door open. The door to the chapel was on the side of the building. You went inside and walked down a flight of stairs to the chapel, in the basement. It smelled like wax and vinegar. I wrinkled my nose. My dad put his hand on my shoulder and marched me to a pew in front. There were four confessionals in Saint Francis, one at each corner. The one in front had a green light shining, which meant there was a priest inside. On either side of the priest’s closet, there was a place to go and confess your sins. The confessionals had the most beautiful velvet curtains: thick and soft and dark. I loved to stroke the velvet and thought it would be nice to have a pillow made of this material. If someone was inside and confessing, there was a red light above, and you couldn’t go in. You really weren’t even supposed to sit too close, because listening to another person’s sins was a sin. One time when my sister was with me, I was sitting in the pew and could hear her whispering, but I couldn’t tell what she was saying. I slid farther away, but really I wanted to move closer, because someone broke the arm off my Barbie and if she did it, I wanted to hear her confess it. Then I’d know. But even if I did, I couldn’t tell her, because then she’d know I was listening, and listening to someone’s confession was a bigger sin than breaking the arm off a Barbie.

While my dad was behind the velvet curtains, I walked up to the candles. I loved the candles. They flickered inside little red glass cups, and if you wanted to light a candle, you had to put money in the box. An offering, my dad said. If I had a dime in my pocket, I would put it in the slot and listen to it clink as it fell to the bottom of the metal box. Then I would take a long wooden stick from a little bucket of sand, and hold it in one of the flames until it had a flame, too. Then I would light my candle. My dad said you were supposed to offer a prayer for someone when you lit a candle, so I would offer a prayer for everybody in my family, because I didn’t know anyone who had died.


20 thoughts on “The Saddest Day of the Year

  1. This was beautiful, Martha.
    True story: When my little brother went to confession for the first time he was in there for so long my mom began to worry. Then he popped out and began walking away only to turn around and dart back inside. My mother – now mortified because it was during a large first confession ceremony – asked him afterwards what happened. He said he’d forgotten something very important to confess and he just had to go back. 🙂
    Happy Easter!


  2. Dear Martha,

    Can we publish this in next years Magnificat Lenten Companion? It’s beautiful—very moving.

    Happy Easter! Will remember you in my Easter Masses with BIG LOVE.

    Here’s to the Happiest Day of the Year,




  3. It’s true! How fortunate we are to know He’s not really dead. It must have been terrible the Saturday after the first Good Friday, though. Wonderful post! Thanks, Martha. Happy Easter!


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