This blog is meant to be entertaining. I want to make you smile or even laugh out loud (that would be a true victory). But when something really sad happens in your life, it’s hard to get your mo-jo flowing again for any kind of writing, let alone humor writing. After the Newtown tragedy, many of us bloggers were having trouble “finding our funny” again. What’s more, even if we could think of something amusing to write about, we weren’t sure it was appropriate to do so. I’m having that same dilemma again.
I do believe that comic relief is a necessity, even during the worst of times. About 5 years ago, my brother and I were visiting my mom in the ICU after her open-heart surgery. She was still intubated and unconscious and I was a tense wreck. My brother was much calmer since he is a physician and knew what to expect. As we were sitting there watching her, I heard loud beeps, almost siren-like coming from another patient’s bedside nearby.
“What does that mean?” I asked my brother nervously about the sounds.
“Well… let’s just say that person shouldn’t make any plans for breakfast tomorrow morning,” he replied while smiling.
I burst out laughing, right there in the ICU, knowing my brother was joking.
And it was just what I needed: a little levity during a stressful situation.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Not a funny time.
And yet, there were some funny moments while we planned my mother’s funeral and even during the actual service. Not ha-ha laugh hysterically, but definitely those few seconds where you chuckle or giggle about the absurdity of the situation or the amusement of a fond memory.
Do I dare write about it here now? Is it too soon? I have no idea if writing about this will turn off my readers or not, but I’m going for it. Because I know my mom would want me to….
So… planning a funeral is a surreal experience. The people you encounter in the funeral business are trained to be rocks. No emotion allowed. I felt like I was visiting with the guards outside Buckingham Palace and trying to make one of them crack a smile. Well, lo and behold, we succeeded. One of our funeral people broke into an actual grin!
It was easier than I thought it would be. We had brought in the items we wanted placed in the casket. I knew exactly what she wanted in there because she had once told me years earlier. When we handed over the E.T. stuffed doll (from the movie E.T., in case you were wondering), probably a first-time item for a grown-up funeral, the woman helping us smiled. Yup, we got her to crack. So proud of us! Except, she got us back when she asked us the next question:
“And is there any place in particular you would like these items placed?” she asked after regaining her composure.
Huh? The three of us looked at one another, completely puzzled.
Finally, my brother answered with, “Well, there’s really not much room in there, so I guess anywhere is fine.”
I felt like laughing out loud. The woman’s question seemed so odd, and yet I felt my brother answered it with the perfect mix of humor and sensitivity.
Next stop was the cemetery. Another stone faced woman brought us to the vicinity of where the burial could occur and showed us several different choices, mapping out the spaces with her feet.
My brother said under his breath, “gee, I feel like I’m out with a real estate broker, shopping for a new house.”
Again, the urge to laugh uncontrollably came over me.
In the end, we picked the perfect spot.
My brother and I both wrote what I thought were wonderful tributes for the service. And true to our colors, we both included a few lines that we knew would elicit some laughter. That made sense, because after all, a funeral is also meant to be a celebration about a person’s life.
It wasn’t until the burial where I really surprised myself. A Jewish burial is hard, really hard. The casket is lowered into the ground and then each person takes a turn and shovels some dirt onto the casket. I’m all about closure and I do think that experience defines it. But still. Very hard. After the burial, the Rabbi asks you to recite the mourner’s prayer with him.
I don’t know Hebrew. And although the prayer was thankfully in phonetics for us ultra reformed Jews, I still couldn’t figure out how to pronounce most of the words. And the Rabbi was reading so fast! I tried to follow my brother’s lead, but I heard him stumbling along as well. OY VEY, as my Jewish grandmother would say.
This time, I had real difficulty holding back the giggles. My son noticed me struggling and asked me later why I was almost laughing at grandma’s funeral. Of course I denied anything of the sort. He wasn’t buying it. I confessed to my utter lack of knowledge of Hebrew phonetics and that seemed to sit well with him. He knows how much I loved grandma.
My mom was never much into pushing the religious education on us, so I KNOW with certainty she was getting a kick out of our difficulty with the prayer. I also know she’s with me all the time, and at that moment, she was laughing along with me.
Because isn’t laughter what life’s all about?
One of my favorite quotes of all time is: “A Day Without Laughter Is A Day Wasted.”*
I know my mom agrees.
*The quote is commonly attributed to Charlie Chaplin and/or Groucho Marx, but some historians believe it goes back even further.