The pastor who officiated at my aunt’s funeral in August did a wonderful job reminding us we are all going to die soon.
She prayed: “Remind us how limited our time is, Lord. How we are but a breath away from our last. How our days are numbered.” And then she prayed some other encouraging lines to never let us forget that we should keep the funeral director on speed dial.
I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t she just say, ‘remind us, Lord that we are at death’s door and we live our lives with one foot in the grave.’?”
I know the tone of the message was making me uncomfortable, so I couldn’t imagine how the rest of the room felt when many of them were closer to death than me, based on their age and the oxygen tank being carried by at least one.
I sat in the back row and found my brain filling with inappropriate thoughts and reactions to what was going on around me. I kept staring at the amazingly large ears of the elderly man three rows ahead of me and wondered if they had always been that large or if they had drooped and stretched over the years, much like women’s breasts, as they age. At one point I almost giggled out loud as I mentally checked off how many more ways the minister could describe our impending deaths.
I looked around the funeral home and realized it was the same one we had all sat in the day of my uncle’s funeral more than 15 years before and it hadn’t changed since then, or maybe even since the 1950s. The mint-green paint was chipping in places, the air conditioner sounded like a cat had got stuck inside and I was fairly certain the floor had never been replaced and someone’s foot might shoot right through the boards when they stood up to leave.
A glance at the ceiling made me wonder if parts of it might cave in our heads, creating more business for the funeral home director, a man who had unwittingly tortured me when I’d worked as the hometown editor at the local paper, always sending obits riddled with typos, typed on either an electric typewriter or maybe a computer so old that it filled one half of a room. He always sent them by fax and I had to transcribe them into the computer since the way they were typed made it impossible to scan them in to the computer”. Other funeral homes would email their obituaries, leaving me to merely copy and paste them to be published in the next days newspaper. No matter the hints I dropped, though, this director seemed blissfully unaware that his failure to upgrade made my work nights even longer.
As I sat there in the funeral home, in a metal chair that squeaked or made fart sounds when I shifted or breathed, I knew that all these giggling-inducing thoughts were a type of self-protecting hysteria, my internal self-defense mechanisms kicking in to keep me from breaking down. I couldn’t help feel guilty for not being more serious during such a somber time. Luckily, the urge to giggle dissipated when family members, including my dad, stood to speak.
I often find myself laughing at the wrong moments – giggling when my son trips over his feet and lands on his face (as long as he gets back up again and isn’t bleeding) or when someone trips and spills what they were carrying (again, as long as they are uninjured). These moments of fighting to hold back inappropriate laughter make me think of an episode of the British sitcom “Coupling” where the characters struggle to hold in their giggles at a funeral and the scenes switch between the actors at the funeral and a metaphorical tower of glasses about to tumble.
Sitting in the back of that funeral home, straining to hear the kind words being spoke about my aunt over the grinding of the dying air conditioning unit, I fought to keep my own internal tower of glasses from falling. I knew that my urge to laugh was simply misplaced emotions, my brain’s way of trying to claw toward numbness so I could feel less of the pain of having suffered another loss in our family in less than a year.
I welcomed the humor, the pushed down giggles, because it was like a mental release valve for my mind, a way to keep me sinking beneath the surface of depression, with no chance of coming back up to breathe the air of joy again.