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.