Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tears and Laughter

In my bookshelf lie dog-eared copies of Kahlil Gibran's books. "Tears and Laughter" appears particularly well read. In my young adulthood, back in the 60's, Gibran's books were my spiritual oasis.

I thought of that book yesterday, after a day of tears and laughter. Funerals are like that... we cry for the deceased and laugh at the memories of happier times. When Johnny and I were young newly weds we confidently predicted that our love would conquer all; we knew in our heads we would have sad times, but who, before they have endured the loss of close family members and friends, knows how deeply sorrow can bite. What I didn't realize then was that each death brings back every other already endured and thought to have been put to rest.

Yesterday's services for a neighbor who died too young brought back my father's death just one year ago. He, too, had military honors. The firing of the guns and, most of all, the playing of Taps by a single trumpet, brings tears even now as I write this. Who understands how much we'll miss the departed until they depart?

I miss my dad. And my mom, who passed on eleven years earlier than Dad. And so many close friends who died too young. It gets worse, I know, the older we grow. The last five or ten years of Johnny's folks' lives were spent, it seemed, going to funerals. That's the curse of long life. I decided after a round of deaths of good friends some years ago, that I was going to start making young friends, so they'd outlast me.

But, interspersed with the tears, is always laughter. We stopped between graveside and reception at some dear friends who are most definitely still alive and happy. Our kids grew up together. Now we have grandchildren to talk and brag about. And laugh with. The cycle of life goes on.

At the reception, all the children in the neighorhood whom we knew as children are adults now, with families of their own. We met in the same church hall (gymnasium really) where our kids learned to roller skate so many years ago. I didn't recognize most of these young adults. They are the ages their parents were when we moved here. Their grandparents were our close friends and farming partners, long since deceased. The third generation from our neighbor friends were happily playing together in the hall where our own children played and skated long ago... So many memories in that building, so much laughter and tears.

Now the book I lean on is not Tears and Laughter. It is "I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye", by Brook Noel and Pamela Blair. It's really for those who have lost a loved one to sudden death. But all deaths, no matter how expected, are sudden to me when they actually occur. Grief is grief.

One of the suggestions in this book is to frame a treasured photo of your loved one and hang it in a special place. I have an unframed snapshot of my mom and dad laughing together as Dad tries to keep Mom from ducking away from the camera -- she never wanted her picture taken. That photo sits in front of my computer. I see it and smile every day. It helps me remember the happy times. And the love.

As Carol Staudacher, one of the people quoted in this book, "I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye", reminds us, we grieve because we love. "There is only one way for you to live without grief in your lifetime; that is to exist without love..." And since I have no intention of living without love, I live through grief by finding things to laugh about. Laughing is therapeutic, just as is crying. Fortunately, life is full of things to laugh about... as my mother well knew.

Looking at the photo by my computer, I can hear Mom's laugh... it was infectious... deep and uncontrollable... almost like a donkey braying. Really, the intake of breath was as loud as the exhales that are audible when most people laugh. Mom laughed coming and going. Sometimes I laugh that way, too.

Tears and laughter. That's life.

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