Laugh, Even at the Funeral

Spencer - Ballwin, Missouri
Entered on January 21, 2011
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I believe everyone needs to laugh more, a lot more.

I’m a writer, and like many writers, I seem obsessed with the dark side of human nature: misery, betrayal, death, loneliness.

As a writer, I seem to be the “designated scribe” in both my nuclear and extended families. If you are a writer, it is highly likely that this same fate awaits you – you’ll get used to it. This means that whenever a family event occurs that merits written attention, you’re the go-to guy or girl. Typical situations warranting such “literary attention” include everything from the mundane, like party invitations, to the profound, like a eulogy. When my father died in 1994 at the age of 69, I was, of course, the designated eulogizer.

My father’s death was in no way humorous. After working tirelessly for 47 years, excluding 2 years spent as an army sergeant in the Philippines during World War II, my father died of liver cancer. I found this terribly unfair, since he had only 2 or 3 years of retirement in which to try to make up for all that work, an impossible task. On the other hand, my father always knew how to have fun and was never cheated at parties, smoking and drinking like a fiend. Yet, despite my father’s clearly demonstrated capacity for hard work, he also joked around. Some people, actually many people, referred to him as a wiseass.

Consequently, it came as no particular surprise to me that I too would be referred to as a wiseass, and when it came time for me to pen my father’s eulogy, I soon abandoned any hope of being serious or somber in my remarks. I indulged my belief in humor, a belief instilled in me by my father, and I wrote, among other things:

-You taught us to appreciate a fine wine.

-You taught us to appreciate a cheap wine.

-You taught us the spirituality of barbecuing.

-You taught us to eat breakfast in silence, to be interrupted only by flatulence.

-You taught us that to live was to be relentless.

-You taught us to recognize and despise the weak, buzzing sound of a man talking like he has a paper asshole.

I can’t explain that last one, but you’ll know it when you hear it.

When I read my eulogy in a surprisingly sunny mausoleum to a relatively small audience which included my mother, my wife, my brother and sister, two Catholic priests, and my father, I was a little unsure how my words would be regarded. When I saw the priests trying unsuccessfully to stifle their laughter, I knew it was okay, that there would be no perception of disrespect connected with my decision, my instinct, to joke about my dead father.

So I believe in laughter – in life, and in death – and everywhere in between. Laughter is perhaps the purest expression of human emotion, nearly uncontrollable in its force. Perhaps we should stop fighting it and just let it rip.

This I believe.