When you lose a loved one, the funeral process is, at best, bewildering, exhausting and eye opening. You literally go from having had a conversation with your loved one the day before to deciding how many people you need to feed at a meal after the funeral service in a matter of hours. You make decisions that no rational mind expects: cremation or burial, roses or carnations, tiramisu or Italian cookies. The entire time, you are viewing the world in front of you with absolute shock and disbelief. Your heart is in in unbearable pain and your mind just cannot process what is being put before it. What saves you from having a complete and utter break from reality is humor. Yes. Humor.
Inappropriate Funeral Humor is the only way your mind is able to survive the tragedy of losing a loved one.
At my grandfather’s funeral in April 2006, my father’s company was kind enough to send us an arrangement to the funeral home. It was a beautiful arrangement. Of cheerful Easter flowers and a hydrangea bush. That had a note attached proclaiming “Happy Spring!”. And a giant yellow, plastic duck sticking out of it. As I stood with my dad at my grandfather’s casket, quietly looking at the flowers, my father looked at me and said, “My company sent me a goddamned duck for my dad” and we burst into peals of hysterical laughter right under the watchful eye of the funeral director. Afterward, I took that beautiful arrangement home and planted it in my backyard. And I buried the duck under it. For years afterward, my dad would look at me and say out of the blue, “A frigging duck. They sent a duck!”. Inappropriate funeral humor lived on.
When my father passed away unexpectedly in October 2012, understandably, I was a mess. By the time I got to Texas roughly 24 hours after he died, I was sleep deprived, border line manic and slap happy. Upon arriving, I dumped my kids with my brother and headed out with my mom to finish the details of the funeral, specifically the meal after the service. After a stop at the restaurant, we went to a local grocery store to try and order a couple of trays of Italian cookies to be served for dessert.
As we got to the bakery, a nice gentleman with a very thick Southern accent tried to assist us. After explaining we’d like two trays of cookies, the kind man said, “I’m so sorry but I just don’t have those for y’all”. When we asked him where we could get such trays, we had the following conversation:
Bakery Man: “Well, now m’am, do you have one of them SMART phones?”
Me: “Uhm, yes…”
BM: “Well, here’s whatcha gonna do. You gonna put in the words “I-talian cookies” in that thing, you know, The Go-ogle?”
Me: “Yes, I’m familiar with, uhm, The Google.”
BM: “Right. Well, you just put them words in there and you’ll get a huge list of places that sell I-talian cookies. You MIGHT even get prices.”
Me: “Well, thank you, sir, that really helps”.
BM: “The Go-ogle is where it’s at ma’am. Y’all have a great day, now, ya hear?”
My mother and I just stood in that bakery and laughed until we actually cried. I-talian. The Google. It was just too much and too funny not to have a full on laugh attack right there next to the freshly baked bread. It didn’t change the fact that my dad was gone but it sure as hell lightened our heavy load even for a few minutes. And, truth be told, I swear I was looking for Ashton Kutcher because we were being PUNK’D….and now, everyone in my family uses The Google.
So many times in the following days, we found ourselves hysterically laughing over things that no human should find funny. My dad’s service was in Texas but he was being buried in Massachusetts. When you are discussing how to get your dad’s body halfway across the country still reasonably intact, that’s just funny stuff. Comments like “I wonder what FedEx charges?” and “Can we just go casket carryon?” and “I guess Media Mail is out…unless we throw a CD in with him” were jockeyed around. Inappropriate? Yup, we had that covered.
When Fruit Loop #1 looked out the window to the backyard and asked “What time are we digging Poppy’s hole back there?” the entire room just burst out laughing at our surreal reality. When Fruit Loop #2 insisted she needed to wear dirty clothes to the funeral because “….we are burying Poppy, Mommy. We will get filthy when we dig the hole…”, again, laughter saved us (Read more HERE). And, when we found out that my father’s casket arrived four hours early for his flight to Massachusetts, my brother and I quipped that there was no greater tribute to the man who was nine hours early for every single thing he did.
Over the weekend, I attended a funeral for a dear friend’s mom. While I didn’t know my friend’s mom, I know my friend Anna and her husband Pat extremely well (Note: I changed their names to protect their anonymity. And because it’s fun to change someone’s name). Anna had traveled quite a distance and had to leave her husband and children at home due to the unexpected events. Because she was by herself, I made the drive to Long Island to support her, give her a hug and try to make her smile through her tears.
As I attended the memorial at the funeral home, I tried to pretend that hanging out in a place where dead people are embalmed is completely normal. I passed room after room with open caskets and tried to concentrate on not having the verbal diarrhea I get when I get nervous. I tried not to let the low talking, hushed, “I’m using my soothing voice” funeral director give me the willies and truth be told, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t freaked out that the bathroom was located next to a door that said “DO NOT ENTER”. Ick. I tried to take solace in the chintz fabrics, cheerful paintings and strategically placed boxes of tissues. I also tried not to look at the urn too much.
After I gave my friend and her family my condolences, I sat quietly and tried to look purposeful in a room full of people I didn’t know and a giant urn. As I sat, a woman approached me and we had the following conversation:
Her: Oh, you look like you don’t know anyone here, either.
Me (polite, quiet, funeral appropriate laugh): Yes, guilty!
Her: How do you know Pat?
Me: Oh, Pat isn’t here. He’s home taking care of their kids. It was too much to bring them here.
Her (quizzical look): No, I mean, PAT. How do you know PAT?
Me: OOOH, I thought you said WHERE is Pat. We’re neighbors.
Her: Really? You live on my street?
Me: No, I live in Pennsylvania.
Her (gentle throat clearing): I meant PAT (insert gesture to urn behind her).
Me: OOOH, that Pat. No, I don’t know her. Never met her.
Her (even more quizzical, maybe I should get security look): Uhm, excuse me, I think I see my other neighbor……
Yeah. Anna’s mom and her husband have the same nickname. Oops. And now Anna’s mom’s neighbor thinks I’m a lunatic funeral crasher. Double oops. But it was all worth it as I recounted the exchange to Anna. She laughed a genuine laugh with me and said it was one of the most ridiculous conversations she’d ever heard. And she smiled. And laughed AT me. So, there’s that.
Since my dad’s death, I’ve come across so many friends who have similar tales of hilarity amidst tragedy. I’ve read countless blogs and articles about silly funeral mishaps and have been comforted by the fact that I’m not the only one that finds humor at inappropriate times. One of my favorite stories, though, comes from Meredith Spidel at The Mom of The Year in the book I Just Want To Pee Alone. In her essay, “Love, Tears and A Few Scattered Ashes”, she recounts how her family was unsure of whether or not her mom had actually passed (yes, they used a pocket mirror), how her dad folded laundry on the bed her mother was in while waiting for the coroner and how, in a search for an extra pillow later that night, her father gave her the one her mother had just died on. And, I won’t ruin the rest of the story, but, suffice it to say, spreading her ashes was a real humdinger to read. Her story made me laugh out loud and feel grateful that humor helped save me and heal.
Because, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. And when you are crying, it helps like hell to laugh.
|I know he’s laughing WITH me wherever he is.
Or AT me.