Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Most Heartbreaking Moments In Six Feet Under

One of the best qualities of "Six Feet Under," Alan Ball's classic HBO drama series," is how much it involves the audience emotionally. As you watch the show about the Fisher and Sons funeral home, you become part of it. That sense of belonging has two sides, though: You're with them at their most joyous moments, but also at their most heart-wrenching ones. Being a member of an undertaker family means you'll see and experience a lot more affliction, suffering, and sadness than the average person.

Although the series is just as much about life as about death, there's a grim and gloomy atmosphere — a vibe that suggests death hangs over our heads all the time. This lays down the groundwork for many devastating tragedies. Through the eyes of the Fishers, we witness different kinds of grief, agony, and loss as they help many people to get through the worst day of their lives. Still, as we're finding out more and getting closer to the family, their pain and suffering hit us harder than we would expect. 

Here, we gathered the most heart-rending moments of the HBO drama.

(Warning — spoilers ahead.)

Nate's outburst at his dad's funeral

In the pilot, the first funeral we witness is Nathaniel Fisher's (Richard Jenkins). His son, Nate (Peter Krause), just can't deal with how artificial and pretentious the ceremony is. Angrily, he says to his brother, David (Michael C. Hall), "What is this hermetically sealed box? This phony Astroturf around the grave? Jesus, David, it's like surgery. Clean, antiseptic, business." He continues, "The fact remains that the only father we're ever gonna have is gone. Forever. And that sucks. But it's a goddamn part of life, and you can't really accept it without getting your hands dirty. Well, I do accept it, and I intend to honor the old bastard by letting the whole world see how f****** up and s***** I feel that he's dead."

As Nate chokes up during this monologue, he realizes the words he's saying is a powerful bit. He's furious and wants to let the world know about it. Yet, he can't and won't hide how hurtful it feels to lose his one and only father. The scene perfectly captures the emotional state we go through when we bury one of our parents. Peter Krause delivers this speech with frustration and vulnerability, which truly shakes us to our core. It encapsulates what kind of show we will be seeing for five seasons.

Tracy loses her aunt — and Nate consoles her

Tracy Montrose Blair (Dina Waters) is a "funeral stalker." She randomly attends people's burials she didn't even know. In the Season 1 finale, though, Tracy's beloved aunt dies, so she goes to the Fishers to arrange the funeral. She's a control freak who repeatedly bugs David and Nate about what they do wrong.

Yet towards the end, Tracy unexpectedly opens up to Nate about her Aunt Lillian — the only person who ever really loved her. She reveals that Lillian lost her husband, and that her daughter died in a car accident. But her aunt just went on with her life despite these tragic losses. Tracy admits that she never felt this alone in the world, even though she's used to feeling alone. As tears roll down her cheeks, she asks Nate, "Why do people have to die?" He thinks for a second, then says, "To make life important."

This profound response is especially incisive since Nate learned earlier that he has a life-threatening health condition — which means he could have a stroke and die any time. Hence, this brief dialogue is one of the most poignant bits in the series.

Nate finds a family photo album in his dad's secret place

In Season 1's "The Room," Nate discovers that his father made strange deals with a few clients who couldn't pay in full for their loved ones' funeral at the time. One of these arrangements was an empty room in an Indian restaurant — the owner gave it to him as a settlement for the service. Nate stays there for a while — and later even shows it to his girlfriend, Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), and his brother, David.

At first, it drives him crazy that he doesn't know what his dad did in this spot. He imagines all sorts of scenarios: like he smoked and drank there in solitude. Or that he brought women here, had big parties, or shot people from the window with a sniper. Essentially, what makes him upset about this discovery is that his father had another life totally unbeknownst to him. He thinks of this place as an escape Nathaniel needed to get away from his family.

Yet, at the end of the episode, Nate finds a photo album full of memories of when they were kids — smiling, laughing, posing as one happy bunch. It's such an emotional moment — knowing that his dad had a separate life outside of his family, yet never stopped loving and thinking about them. This revelation eases Nate's mind and eventually gives him solace.

David talks to his imaginary father after being kidnapped

In Season 4, David gets robbed and kidnapped by a lunatic. He manages to escape, but understandably, he's traumatized by the experience and develops panic attacks and symptoms of PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder). Ultimately, the police capture his attacker, and he builds up the courage to go and confront him in prison. Yet facing his fears doesn't set him free the way he expects it to.

He can't let go of the pain, until one morning his dad appears to him in a fantasy. Nathaniel helps him realize that he should be grateful to come out of this violent encounter alive — emphasizing that he needs to appreciate how lucky he was. David is baffled by his words, thinking, it can't be so simple. The scene ends with him putting his head on his imaginary dad's shoulder. It's one of those few daydreams in which Nathaniel serves as a supportive parent, giving his son comfort in a difficult period of his life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

The baby that dies of SIDS

Throughout five seasons, "Six Feet Under" shaped its unique formula of opening death sequences to perfection. These often involved grotesque, gruesome, and even crazy demises at times — but some really tragic ones, too.

In the opening to "The Trip," we're witnessing everything through a newborn baby's eyes. We see the parents walk into the room and hear the gentle lullaby play in the background. They start talking to their son, and the dad is a little worried. He asks his wife if the infant doesn't look funny to her. She assures him it's everything okay and sends him back to bed. Then she stays behind and begins singing to help her son fall asleep. Eventually, they both shift out of the frame, and all we hear is the baby's heavy breathing — and a few seconds later, everything goes white.

As the plot continues, we soon learn that the baby died of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and was only three weeks old. The simplicity of this scene becomes harrowing and lasts till the end, depicting the worst and most agonizing experience a parent can go through.

David finds out about his brother's condition

After learning about his life-threatening condition, AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation), in Season 1, Nate grapples with worrying thoughts. He tries to ignore the whole thing, but his mind doesn't let him. He keeps seeing the ghost of Josh Langmead (Page Kennedy) — a college football player who died during practice — who pressures him to face his fears and accept his possibly fatal condition.

Later on, Nate finds David and opens up to him. The two sit, and one of the show's melancholy theme songs begins to play as the camera gradually shifts backward. As he shares the possible effects of AVM, his voice cracks, and a few seconds later, he bursts into tears while David tries to console him. It's an incredibly tough sequence to watch, considering the emotional attachments we formed with the characters. As viewers, we feel like bystanders witnessing one of the saddest and most honest conversations between two brothers.

Nate's dream about Lisa

In Season 3, Nate is married to Lisa (Lili Taylor), and they have a lovely daughter. Although he struggles with his doubts regarding this marriage, it's undeniable how much affection he holds for his wife. However, after Lisa decides to visit her sister, she gets on the road and goes missing. Nate tries everything to find out where she might be, even filing a missing person report, but Lisa doesn't turn up. As time passes without any new information about her whereabouts, Nate thinks of different scenarios about what might've happened to her.

In the episode "Twilight," he dreams about finding Lisa on a beach. In this dream, he confesses that their relationship hasn't turned out as he wanted. He tried to love her, but something just wasn't right from the beginning. He believes that he missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime chance — and now, it's too late. Yet, Lisa says to him, "I'm not a chance. I'm a person." Then we cut back to Nate, awake, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, bawling. The scene is particularly moving because it provides a sort of closure, and foreshadows Lisa's eventually confirmed death.

Nate buries Lisa

In the Season 4 premiere, we learn that Lisa's dead body was found. Nate wants to do right by her and bury Lisa in nature without a casket or being embalmed — honoring her wishes. However, her parents don't approve and want a cremation. After the ceremony, Nate takes Lisa to the crematorium, but decides not to cremate her. He instead gives someone else's unclaimed ashes to her folks and takes the body out to the desert.

He finds a peaceful place by a giant tree and starts digging a grave for Lisa. As righteous and admirable as that might sound, the sequence is actually a tormenting experience. It nearly breaks Nate's soul as he struggles to put the mutilated body into the ground. Krause's performance is mesmerizing as he conveys the character's immeasurable pain. He's in tears, completely shattered, and we feel every bit of his agony just as much as if it was our own.

Nate breaks up with Brenda

Undoubtedly, the final season of "Six Feet Under" is the toughest one to watch. There's so much sorrow packed in the last 12 episodes that it makes it emotionally overwhelming. In the second half of it, Nate suffers another stroke, and he's rushed to the hospital. In there, a neurosurgeon tells the Fishers that Nate had a brain hemorrhage and is now comatose. When Nate wakes up, Brenda is sitting next to his bed. Although the right side of his body doesn't seem to function, he's mentally stable. Later on, when Brenda brings in his daughter Maya, they have a conversation. Nate lets Brenda know that he wants to break up. They've been trying to make this relationship work for years now, but they're just too different people. Though she grows angry, Nate refuses to fight — it's over.

Several aspects make this sequence really distressing. Brenda is pregnant with Nate's child and also raising Maya, although she isn't her daughter. She's grateful for Nate to be alive, but hearing that he doesn't want to get through this together is killing her. Eventually, she leaves. Nate passes away later. What happens in this episode is the worst nightmare of many: Not being able to get closure and say goodbye to the people they truly love, regardless of the difficulties. And this is just the beginning of the shattering despair that's yet to come.

Nate's Last Dream

Before Nate passes on, he has one last dream. It's a surreal one in which he meets his brother and late dad. But David seems to be a completely different person. He's a hippie who invites Nate to the beach in the family van that their father is driving. The two smoke a joint and joke around until they get to the ocean. There, Nate runs into the water and tells David to join him. At this point, David is his real self and refuses to go in. The vision ends with him waking up next to his brother in the hospital where the machines are beeping loudly — Nate is dead.

Although the dream begins as Nate's, it ends as David's. The entire sequence symbolizes two very different people and their way of living. Nate was always this relaxed and easygoing person, while David was the opposite — shy, soft, and meek. At one point in the dream, their father snaps at them, "Am I going to have to separate you, boys?" He represents death, and now takes Nate with him. That means that Nate stops running away from the Grim Reaper, accepts his fate, and makes peace with his own mortality. But David can't follow him — he's the sibling who needs to stay behind and take care of everything like he always does. It's a profoundly sad and reflective farewell, one that wonderfully emphasizes Nate's departure from life — and essentially, from his beloved family.

Rico's Eulogy

When everyone gathers to remember Nate in the Fisher home, the first one to speak is Rico (Freddy Rodriguez), their restorative assistant and business partner. He gives a concise eulogy, addressing how much Nate meant to him and why. Yet it's not just what he says, but the way he says it. He's clearly overwhelmed by this tremendous loss because Nate wasn't just an employer to him — he was an inspiration.

While saying those words out loud, he chokes and tears up at the end of his speech. It's a sensitive moment because Rico became very close with Nate, even though they weren't always on good terms with each other. We saw their friendship blossom and how they developed a strong bond with one another over the years. Rico is a true and loyal friend to Nate. If we only have one friend like him, we should consider ourselves lucky.

The Fishers bury Nate

If there's a way to bring viewers as close to attending a burial through their television screen as possible, "Six Feet Under" knows how to do it. In "All Alone," we learn that Nate wanted a "green funeral" — a natural process of placing the body in the ground, wrapped in a shroud without a casket. So, the Fishers come together in a peaceful place and honor his wish.

The reason this funeral is excruciating to watch is that, after spending five years with him, Nate feels like a real person to us. He's like family, a best friend, a brother we never had — and we lost him, too. The burial itself is raw, uncomfortable, and awkward — as it's supposed to be in real life. We moan and cry alongside the relatives while trying to get ourselves together to make it through somehow. It's the most genuine and natural portrayal of a burial in television history.

Ruth and Claire's conversation about choices

In the aftermath of Nate's death, his sister, Claire (Lauren Ambrose), finds their mother, Ruth (Frances Conroy), sobbing in their living room. She's looking at an old family photo album when Claire sits with her. Seeing how devastated and sorrowful her mother is, Claire offers to stay home instead of going to New York and pursue her dreams. Ruth can't believe her daughter would do that for her. She hugs Claire and says, "Absolutely not."

Ruth won't let herself take away the chances Claire has to succeed in life. She wants her to live it to the fullest and not deny anything because of her mom. She made that mistake before and won't let her child do the same. It's a beautiful, relatable, and heartwarming scene between the two characters. Whether you have kids or not, the connection these characters formed with each other is admirable. Tears don't always mean unhappiness or regret, and this moment Ruth and Claire share is a positively heartbreaking one about sacrifice and love.

The montage in the series finale

Even for those of us who watched hundreds of TV shows and saw dozens of finales, "Six Feet Under" has a special place in our hearts. The last episode is as close to being flawless as a finale can be — especially the seven-minute-long montage at the end. As Claire drives to New York, we get to see glimpses of the Fishers and their loved ones' future, including their eventual death, while Sia's touching song, "Breathe Me," plays along.

We see birthdays, weddings, deaths, and funerals in classic "Six Feet Under" fashion. Without exception, each of those occasions breaks our hearts and triggers another teardrop to roll down on our cheeks. Anyone who saw and loved the series can't watch this montage and finish it with dry eyes. It's a culmination of five years summed up in an emotional explosion that provides an impeccable ending to every character's journey. We laugh with them, we grieve with them, and eventually, we say goodbye to them — just as we would do in real life.