I get some bemused looks when I tell people about my cemetery hopping habit. Some people have commented that it must be so depressing going to cemeteries or that death itself is too sad to linger on.
I’ll be brutally honest. Losing a loved one is HARD. I don’t make light of that or disrespect the gravity of death. I lost my father almost 10 years ago and you never really “get over it”. Even though I knew he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior years before, even though I knew he was exactly where he wanted to be, I still had trouble moving forward. I didn’t want him to be in Heaven because I wanted him here with me.
Thankfully, the healing process helped ease that emotional struggle. It took God’s patient love and an amazing program called Griefshare to get me back on track. Part of that included laughing at some of Dad’s quirks and remembering his more irreverent moments.
One of his favorite shows was the Mary Tyler Moore Show. When I think about grief, I remember a classic episode called “Chuckles Bites the Dust.”
The staff of WJM (the TV station where Mary works) are mourning the loss of Chuckles the Clown, host of a beloved kids’ show. Chuckles met his demise while costumed as character Peter Peanut in a local parade. As Lou Grant explains, a rogue elephant tried to “deshell” Chuckles. When announcing Chuckles’ death on the air, anchorman Ted Baxter deadpans, “He died a broken man.” Mary is mortified at her co-workers’ jokes about Chuckles’ death and tells them to stop being so disrespectful. Even as Chuckles’ funeral starts, she scolds Murray for whispering jokes.
But when the minister delivers the eulogy, Mary (to her horror) gets a case of the giggles. When he recounts Chuckles’ famous line “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants”, she’s on the verge of losing it. But when the minister encourages her to laugh as a way to celebrate Chuckles’ life, Mary bursts into tears.
Lou Grant sums it up well when he says, “We laugh at death because we know that death will have the last laugh on us.”
While it’s certainly not a good idea to bring a whoopie cushion to a funeral, humor can definitely help us through the grieving process. It can act as a release of the pressure cooker of stress a person is under. That inner turmoil breaks free and finds relief in laughter.
Dad was in his last hours when I, my sister, husband and brother-in-law went to the cemetery to purchase a plot for him. We were all in a bad way, facing a very difficult situation. The kind woman we were working with was explaining everything and casually mentioned that in the years to come we would need to maintain Dad’s grave by personally keeping the grass cut, etc.
This jolted us all out of our fog and we stared at her in stunned silence. Was she for real? She smiled and said, “It’s a joke, you guys, relax!”
Now some people might have taken offense at that. But we all collapsed into laughter. We needed something to help shake us out of our gloom, and humor did the job. I think of that woman from time to time with much appreciation. She knew it was just what we needed to do at that moment.
In 1998, one of my best friends died of a sudden, fatal heart attack. John was only 30 and it was a shock to all of us who knew him. I gave one of the eulogies at his funeral, wanting to share not only how much John had meant to me but how funny he could be. So I shared the story of when, while an engineer at a small Pennsylvania radio station, he impersonated a Polish polka DJ (who didn’t show up for his shift) for an entire hour with nobody being the wiser. Later, I learned his family had not known this bit of John trivia and had gotten a lot of joy from hearing it.
Death is a serious business. But mourning doesn’t have to be constant pain. There is a place for laughter, for joyful remembrance amid the sadness. Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 is often quoted but I think God inspired every word in its anonymous author.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Humor can heal. And it can bring great relief in the depths of despair.
I’ve mentioned Steel Magnolias before as one of my favorite movies. Dolly Parton, who plays sassy beautician Truvy, says, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
It’s one of mine, too.