Gina’s Review: This week’s blog covers a difficult subject as everyone has felt the pain of losing a loved one. But here we are reminded of the real treasures in life! As Guest Editor, I thank you for the courage to tell these stories, and for the smile you shared with us at the end.
When a loved one passes away, we believe we may never laugh again. Though we rationalize that our dear departed would want us to go on and live a happy life, we don’t want to laugh or be happy, it feels wrong, and creates feelings of immense guilt.
Often, the laughter starts at the very place we feel it is inappropriate—the funeral or memorial service and accompanying social function. We are heavily into the grieving then, after the time spent planning the event and notifying others has occupied our time and distracted us for a while. This is the time we start realizing our dear one is truly gone. Then someone relates a humorous story that sticks in their memory. It makes us smile or, God forbid, chuckle. This moment leads to other people in the room sharing their most pleasant memories of time spent with the recently lost.
When we were a young family, we moved into a house in a quiet neighborhood in Houston. Our new next-door neighbor had cancer. Though we met his wife and spoke to her from time to time, we never got to know her ailing husband. When he died, she had a wake at her house one evening, which spilled out into her backyard and lasted well into the night. It was loud and boisterous, but what really struck us was the sounds of amusement coming from her guests. People were practically shouting, “Do you remember when Warren…” We didn’t, but we were glad his friends and relatives were able to relive the happy moments of his life. We were struck by the level of joyfulness emanating from that backyard homage. I am sure it was fueled by love and probably a certain amount of alcohol consumption.
When my father passed away, his post-death tribute was handled by my step-mother. I had no input into the proceedings. Though I mourned the loss of my dad, there were a few hilarious moments during the course of these events which lightened my grief and made me appreciate the gifts my father had given me through his parenting. One of these, of course, was my sense of humor. When my little family arrived at the funeral home, my step-mother insisted I choose a Bible verse to read. Needless to say, I was quite unprepared. Why didn’t she mention this sooner?
My dad’s second wife was a fiery Cuban Catholic, which had always seemed to be in stark contrast to my unreligious, church-hating dad. He was a naturalist, if that can be said to be a religion. More pagan than protestant, Dad valued the workings of the natural world and shunned any formal church attendance. At that moment, I had to choose a Bible verse for my non-believing father, to be read at his funeral. I racked my brains for something appropriate, yet rebellious. Then I remembered Isaiah 55, which I had sung as a member of my high school chorus.
I’m not sure what my step-mother and the attending clergy were looking for in the way of a verse reading, but I stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park with this:
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Isaiah 55: 10-11
I swear I could hear my dad chuckling, as he had been an avid gardener all his life, and I could not have picked a better needle out of this particular haystack to please his sensibilities. As the bewildered clergyman continued to deliver this Catholic-ish ceremony, droning on in Spanish, my brother leaned toward me and asked, “If we were able 30 years ago to have seen a peek of this day, would we have known what the hell was going on? Would Dad have laughed if we told him this was his funeral?” I had to suppress the unmerited amusement this question provoked by covering my face with my hands and looking into my lap in a confusing mix of mirth and sorrow.
We reasoned this event was for my step-mother, a woman who loved him and us and we were okay with whatever gave her comfort in this time of stressful loss. For years afterward, she and I met from time to time to have lunch and visit the cemetery where my father’s ashes were put to rest. I taught my son to drive in that cemetery, where we often went to pop in on Dad, then wandered around in the car practicing right and left turns.
When the loss is fresh, and the loved-one is close to us, the grief can overwhelm us. When my mother passed away, I had the good fortune of spending the week with her before she passed. I lived in Texas, she lived in Maine and it was a snowy November day when she went. The family decided to wait until the following June to have her memorial service in her hometown in Maine, giving people living far and wide plenty of time to plan and travel. That gap between the loss and the remembrance was helpful. Though I choked back a sob when I saw the church choir had honored my mother’s membership by placing a chair with a robe and hymnal to mark her place among them, I was still able to speak at her service. So many of her friends and relatives in attendance shared their happy memories.
My mom was a hoot! She had a lot of friends and many hilarious adventures. There were some tears, but the stories of love and laughter touched my heart. I was able to laugh from the pulpit as the many zany anecdotes were delivered, and it felt appropriate. With time and distance, we all forgot about my mother’s suffering from dementia and other difficulties she faced and could really focus on the brightest, merriest of memories.
So why am I writing about death, funerals and sweet, funny memories? Early this month, my friend and pseudo-nephew Christopher was killed in a senseless accident. He was only 34 years old. I grew up with his mother Sharon, who is my sister of choice and I knew Christopher his whole life. The news was a heavy blow for me and had an immense impact on his parents and family. That I was unable to attend his funeral added to my sorrow. I should have seen him this summer, but the pandemic kept me from traveling and vacationing with friends earlier in the season.
Christopher always called me “Aunt Cheryl,” long after he understood that we were not actually blood related. But that was his nature, to include. If ever you needed to see a smile, you could go to him, because it was always there for the sharing. If you ever hear me use the term “back in the day,” it’s because I learned it from him. I was never really sure if he was calling his mom and me old when he asked about what we did back in the day. It’s a silly thing that makes me smile now.
Other memories will come up from time to time. I hope his family and friends will be telling amusing stories about Christopher for a long time. It’s what makes the loss of him a tiny bit more bearable. We grieve, bear our sorrow in whatever way brings us closer to comfort. Laughter is a human treasure not to be overlooked in the search for ways to deal with our painful losses. When I think of Christopher, I always see him laughing.
May you rest in peace and laughter,
|Guest Editor Gina is good at spotting my misspelled words. I warned her ahead of time that this story covered a sensitive topic. She did not flinch, but told me to send it along and she would work on it. I continue in my quest to find her a house in my neighborhood.|