Tragicomedy: The Laughter of The Dead

Tragicomedy:a play, movie, situation, etc., that is both sad and funny.

In moments of sadness, most people know to play it cool and somber. I have found however that I, along with a large majority of folks, find sadness, impossible situations, depression and even death of loved ones, quite humorous. It’s not that we, the mournfully happy, think it’s funny that say an ‘Aunt Peggy’ died, it’s more or less the situations surrounding her passing. It’s the people, it’s the strange and often hilarious ways we will cope with something as heavy as the subject of death. In short it’s our human qualities that make us laugh aloud at inappropriate times.

When my dad died, my family and I were waiting on the coroner. My folks farm house is sizable but felt rather small with myself and my husband, my brother and his wife, my Aunt and Uncle and last but not least a handful of cops and the emergency response team, all in two rooms of the house. At one point it was impossible to move.
After the shock of death and an hour and a half has passed, the practical sides of things started to surface. For instance, we have a dead body on our hands, yes it’s my father’s but it’s a dead body, there are rules to nature….and the coroner, I think, might be lost.
Things could get messy.
My dad once explained all this to a horrified me, over the phone, when my mom’s dad died. I don’t know if you are aware of what the body does after death, if not I’ll let you look that up yourself, but this was something my dad knew all too well. As a Navy Vet, one of his jobs when he was in Vietnam, was diving down into dark water and bringing up dead soldiers. So when my mom’s dad dies, naturally he was anxious for the coroner to come.
My Grandpa’s death was a long drawn out process. He was sick for months ahead of time and in the last two weeks of life, the family sat vigil with he and my Grandma in their front room. Once he finally passed on, I’m not sure if no one had eaten in days or if the loss just made everyone hungry, but either way it goes at some point someone lifted their head from their tear soaked lap and said , “Hey, anyone want a pizza? I sure am hungry!”. Apparently, everyone loved this idea because the family ordered Pizza. And sat. And ate. In the living room, with Grandpa, dead on a bed. It was at this point, my dad got nervous. I talked to him on the phone around this time and he said, “Maggie, we’re eating pizza here! I don’t want to be insensitive but If they don’t get Grandpa out of here soon, things are going to get messy.” I could tell he wasn’t saying this to be humorous, he was seriously concerned.
So, flash forward 6 years to my dad’s death, that night as I knelt beside the body of my father, this memory of my extended family having pizza around my deceased Grandpa popped into my head, all I could hear in my head was my dad’s voice, “Maggie, if they don’t get me out of here soon, things are going to get messy!” Inside I laughed and I may have let a smile escape my lips. I think I was starting to get panicked a bit myself thinking, “where is that damned coroner???” And then “Do I smell Pizza?”

The things that run through your mind when you are under stress, I think this must be a coping mechanism, a way to keep your body and mind from overload and a total nervous and mental breakdown.

As that night played out, I found myself relating to comedies that focus on death and family relations. I could easily see some of what was transpiring before my eyes, happening in a movie.

Once the coroner did arrive, she began to ask my mom questions, general ones, she was a kind woman and was right for the job. In a time of lost senses and incomparable pain, this lady showed grace and class and was very warm to talk with. As I was thinking this, I realized I was being asked a question by my mother. Would I help her take off daddy’s rings? I sighed a heavy sigh. See, this task was difficult in life, dad never took those rings off for a good reason, he couldn’t. They were permanently apart of him, stuck on his fingers. Now in death I was somehow supposed to be able to take them off? I wasn’t sure of the science behind this, But I grabbed the dish soap anyways and got to pouring.
My dad’s fingers covered in blue gloop, I noticed how immaculate his fingernails were, a habit he had learned from his dad. Not only were they filed nicely but they had shine as well, a shine that is brought on only by buffing. Anyways, after a few minutes each of lubing and tugging at his fingers, the rings were released, and subsequently my dad’s hands washed.
After this, I brewed some tea. My sister-in-law and I sat down and sipped at our mugs…which had a perfumed taste, like Dawn dish soap.

So much for tea….

We have to laugh. It oddly feels right when stressful situations arise. Our mind tries to beat us down and put a guilt trip on us for finding laughter in a horrid situation but the truth is, we’d all die of heart attacks due to stress if we didn’t find humor in some of this shit.
It has been over 4 months since my dad’s death and still there are things I am chuckling about, I laugh at his crazy habit of buying knic-knacks, the way he’d buy something new and walk around like the cat’s meow and take the time to explain why it was the best thing and how he got a real deal on it.
I am still laughing at some of the happenings surrounding the planning of his memorial and celebration. I think I will always.
Oddly, I can’t remember my dad’s laughter too much. Seems silly, it hasn’t been long but it’s one of those things, it’s something unexpected you assumed would just stick with you, but it hasn’t. I can explain what it sounds like but it’s like seeing your reflection in a rain drenched window, the edges and shadows are there but none of the detail. However, through all this tragicomedy, I can hear a silent whisper of a laugh, one my memory strains to recall and can only make out parts of, it’s the laughter of the now dead….. and somehow, it’s enough.


4 thoughts on “Tragicomedy: The Laughter of The Dead

  1. Loved this:

    “I can explain what it sounds like but it’s like seeing your reflection in a rain drenched window, the edges and shadows are there but none of the detail.”

    I hope his laughter will come to you in your dreams.


  2. Maggie Belle, That last paragraph….for some unknown reason … triggered something within me… soul shattering and sobbing that I could not control. Like Grandad told me. Words paint pictures if used correctly, and are powerful.

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