I talked to my mom today. During our conversation she felt compelled to remind me, as she does often, that if she should suddenly die, there is a folder in the file cabinet in her bedroom that contains her will and all other legal documents I will need as the executor of her will. I assured her I knew right were to look and who to call in the event of her untimely demise. I am 57 and she still worries that some day I may end up living down by the river in a van and licking discarded candy wrappers for nourishment. I do my best to assuage her concern. I’ll be fine Mom. Say what you will, but a van down by the river is still waterfront property.
All of us are aware of the inevitability that we will die someday, yet most of us have difficulty being light-hearted about it. Perhaps due to fear or out of respect for the grieving family we treat death as somber and serious business. Few of us see any place for humor in it. Humor, however can relieve our anxieties about death, help us cope and ease the stress that often surrounds it.
I for one, can attest to this and sometimes it comes out very unexpectedly like when my father died. When the doctors told us there was no hope for recovery with any quality of life for Dad, my
brother and I made the decision to let him go knowing he would not want to live that way. We brought him home to my house and set up a hospital bed in my room. We took turns staying with him around the clock waiting for the moment when he would go. My mother, trying to do her part to provide comfort to her children, ordered her now husband Bill, to bring over a comfortable blue velvet swivel chair from their den. Bill graciously complied, loaded said chair
in the trunk of his car and dutifully hauled it to my house setting it beside the bed.
And so we sat, in the blue velvet swivel chair, keeping vigil beside Dad’s bed. It was on my brother’s watch that my dad took his last breath. I was in the next room watching Law & Order with my boyfriend Jeff when I heard Greg yell, “You guys come in here I think this is it.” We rushed to the doorway and stood very still, surveying Dad, trying to surmise whether or not he was still breathing. After a long silence Jeff said, “Is he dead?” “I don’t know,
he looks dead,” I replied. Which prompted by brother to pull out his best Billy Crystal impression from the Princess Bride, “Well, he’s mostly dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, there’s usually only one thing you can do…go through his clothes for loose change.” We all looked at each other and suddenly the damn burst. All the stress we’d been under for the past three weeks flowed out in
laughter. We laughed until our sides hurt.
The best story I have ever heard was from another teacher at a “Humor in the Classroom” seminar. Her mom had died at home surrounded by all her loved ones. They called the funeral home to come and get her. The somber mortuary men arrived, dressed in suits and ties expressing condolences. They went upstairs, reverently strapped the deceased onto a gurney and started toward the front staircase. Here’s where it gets fuzzy. Apparently someone wasn’t paying attention and Mom began to roll down the stairs unattended. By the time anyone noticed she was too far gone to stop. They watched in horror as the gurney began to pick up speed. “By the time
she reached the bottom of the stairs Mom was really sailing,” she told me. Their beloved mother flew across the foyer on two wheels, came back down just in time to make it out the open front door and down the sidewalk stopping only when she collided with the side of the hearse. They all just stood there looking at each other in disbelief. And then…a burst a laughter so forceful that my friend thought she was going to pee her pants. They laughed until they cried.
That kind of laughter is a venerable thing. When I die I don’t want a lot of fuss, but most of all I don’t want my loved ones to have to spend what little money I might have managed to squirrel away on a funeral. When my time comes, in keeping with Irish tradition, I want an uproarious wake. Prop me up in the corner at the Ground Round or somewhere and celebrate my life. Reminisce about all the stupid things I did while I was alive and LAUGH. Lord knows, there should be enough material there to keep people entertained well into the wee hours. Also, if some feel the need, let them line up at the bar and list all the ways I wronged them, then buy them a drink on me. If the entire thing ends in a riot that would be even better.
And for the funeral plans? As of right now my funeral arrangements basically consist of a Folgers can lined with floral shelf paper, lighter fluid and a match.
Yesterday, I was talking to someone at school about people driving their kids to school in their pajamas. I had to admit that back when I worked from home I frequently drove my kid to school in the same attire.
One particular morning I was decked out in an old nightshirt. Fortunately, at the last minute I decided to add a pair of sweatpants to my ensemble because it was fall and kind of cold outside. They were horrible looking and had a big hole in the crotch, but would keep my legs warm and Hey, who was going to see me right? Those of you who know me might be able to see where this is going already.
After dropping Ben off I pulled out of the Bode parking lot and was making my way back up Noyes towards home. Right about the time I was driving past the Noyes Home for Children I pushed the clutch in to shift gears and the clutch pedal went all the way to the floor. I knew what had happened…the clutch cable had snapped. Of course, as luck would have it, in that exact instant when the cable broke in half, the gear shift had been in between gears and was now stuck everlastingly in neutral which meant that now my car could not drive anywhere. The clutch cable could have broken when it was in any gear and I probably could have at least gotten home, but oh no, the Gods of all things automotive could not let that be for I am Shawn, Queen of Misadventure and must be humiliated whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I sat in my car for a few minutes brooding over my rotten luck. I hadn’t bothered with bringing my purse or phone (I wasn’t going that far right? What could possibly happen?) I took a deep breath thinking I might as well get it over with and stepped out into the brisk fall air wearing my Garfield nightshirt and horrible sweat pants. I started walking, all the while praying to the God of everything holy that if I kept my head down none of the other mothers dropping off their kids would recognize me as they sped away in their giant four wheel drive assault vehicles. I envisioned in my mind, one mother in particular recognizing me, stopping her luxury-wagon in the middle of Noyes Boulevard and rolling down her window to inquire as to if I needed a ride somewhere.
I would prefer being mistaken for a homeless vagrant and carted off to the Salvation Army rather than being forced to accept a ride home in an Escalade with perfectly groomed Soccer Mom whom I’m sure, in addition to wearing glittery 5-inch designer heels with her Juicy Couture jogging suit, also packs her kids organic gluten-free lunches in sustainable hemp Ecobags. I could not bear the thought of her pitiful gaze looking down at me through her hipster glasses as she leaned out the window of her SUV to offer assistance. I swiped my hair over my face and walked as fast as I could toward home.
My Irish luck was with me that morning and I was not stopped by a passing officer of the law with the misguided impression that I escaped from the nearby state hospital. As I neared my house, a couple of neighbors driving by spotted me and honked, waving ‘Good Morning’ to me as they passed. They did not seem alarmed at all. No one stopped to offer me a ride. Having known me for many years now, I’m sure they thought I was just out for a morning stroll. Seeing me walk down the street wearing a cartoon nightshirt and sweatpants in the early morning mist would not seem unusual for me at all. I smiled and waved back. The original feeling of horror
and panic was wearing off as I got closer to my neighborhood and I actually began to enjoy my walk on this beautiful autumn morning.
By the time I got to my front door I was feeling much better about the whole incident and had forgotten about it completely until today. I really need to write these things down so future generations will know what kind of stock they come from. It may help them to know it’s encoded into their DNA and there’s really no amount of therapy that’s going to help. Acceptance of reality…it’ the key to serenity.