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Putting the “Fun” in Funeral January 25, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Family, Humor, Love, Parenting/Children.
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The deaths of my parents have given my family several opportunities to demonstrate our complete lack of awareness of how to behave in public. That sentence may require a bit of explanation.

Over the years, my parents (especially mom Mom) demonstrated to us that death was a part of life, and helped us to become comfortable with this by bringing us to the funeral home when friends and family died. However, funeral homes also became the source of a good deal of “dark humor” in our family.

When my Mom died in 2000, it caught our entire family off guard. Even so, we responded in the manner we felt was most appropriate for Mom (who was notoriously nutty). At visitation, you found the following:

  • A sign that said, “No Sad Faces Beyond this Point” at the entrance to the room
  • A plaid tuxedo that my mom had made for my infamous TV appearance
  • A booklet of funny stories about Mom
  • Laughter, laughter, and more laughter

This may seem odd, but it was part of a pattern that we had already established, starting just moments after Mom’s death.

Hi Honey, I’m Home
The night my Mom died, just after she was pronounced dead, my father and I were sitting in the Emergency Room waiting area, hoping to speak to a nurse about possible organ donations. (As it turned out, they were able to extract some bone marrow from Mom’s lower legs–after removing her legs–the importance of which will be evident in a moment.) The nurse arrived and said, “Honey, how are we doing?”

I looked at Dad and said, “Is she talking to you, or me?”

Dad didn’t hesitate and responded with, “She’s talking to me. You’re still married. I’m single now.”

I could see the look of shock on the nurse’s face, so I assured her that my father wasn’t horribly cruel or experiencing some odd out-of-body experience. Humor is just the way we’ve always dealt with difficult situations. It’s a release valve.

Discount Caskets “R” Us
Just a day or two later, my sister and I were at the funeral home with Dad, helping to make the arrangements. The time came to “shop for a box,” as Dad put it, but the showroom was upstairs, and he didn’t feel like climbing the steps. My sister and I went, with the assurance from Dad that we could choose what we felt Mom would have wanted. (Mom would have wanted an old shoe box, but environmental regulations being what they are, there were none available.)

As my sister and I were cruising through row after row of caskets, she started laughing.

“What is it?” I asked.

“No… I can’t say it. It’s horrible. It’s cruel.” she resisted.

I was relentless in my search for a good laugh. Especially since it we were in a funeral home, where Mom almost always wanted me to tell her a good joke (Mom was fond of saying, “You’d think someone died in here!”). “Come on” I demanded. “Tell it.”

She simply pointed at a small casket, clearly intended for a child. Remember me saying that they removed Mom’s legs to harvest the bone marrow? She said, “Mom doesn’t really need all the room of a full-size model anymore so…”

For some reason, the funeral director didn’t think it was that funny. I thought it was a riot.

Showtime, or Showtunes?
The final moment of comedy came during the funeral, as we were sitting together as a family, up at the front. My older sister had picked out a CD of piano music, “Hymns of the Resurrection,” played by a good friend of hers. She was fond of pointing out that this guy had recorded several albums, and was an accomplished pianist of many styles.

As we sat there, listening to his music, my younger sister and I were trying to decide exactly what hymn we were listening to. The music was beautiful and familiar, but it didn’t quite seem… spiritual. In fact, it was very upbeat.

Finally, my younger sister said something to her older sibling. “Are you sure this is a hymn? This sounds a lot like the theme from ‘Phantom of the Opera.'”

A look of horror crossed my older sister’s face. “I must have grabbed the wrong CD. This is his collection of showtunes!”

We were barely able to contain our laughter. In fact, I was so amused that I sat, face down, literally shaking with semi-contained amusement. A friend of mine later told me that people saw my body shaking, and mistakenly thought I was horribly upset.

He corrected them saying, “I bet they’re all laughing about something. If I know Tim and his family, they’re about to bust a gut.”

He was right, of course. We were all about to explode with laughter.

All of us agreed that at that moment, with the crescendo of showtunes, Mom was laughing already.

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Comments»

1. me - January 31, 2006

You have a great perspective. I loved your fun funeral story! It made me feel better about some of our behavior when my mom passed. Just because you can laugh doesn’t mean you don’t hurt. It felt funny (strange funny) to laugh out loud at Mom’s funeral, but I did. I felt better too.

2. timthefoolman - January 31, 2006

Thank you! Five years later, we’re still laughing. 😀 – Tim

3. jayherron - February 1, 2007

great and truely REAL…I’ve seen these wonderful moments many times!thanks for an entertaining story!

4. Marie (the EXTREMELY younger sister) - June 14, 2007

This is all true, but here’s one tidbit he left out: Our dear mom, who had lost her upper teeth in a car accident when she was 16, was buried sans teeth. (Her “uppers” had been removed in the ambulance while they were trying in vain to resucitate her, and somehow those precious choppers never made it back in once it was all over.) False or not, Mom probably had the most glorious smile you would have ever seen in your life, and I’m happy to say that she showed that smile with great regularity. That said, while she was known for clowning around with her kids and grandkids by taking out her teeth and chasing us around the house, she would have never been caught dead without them in public. Nonetheless, there she was, dead in public without them. (The irony!)

Without a doubt, the first question I’m sure I will hear from Mom after a joyous greeting beyond the pearly gates will be: “I could care less if you bury me without my legs, but what in the world made you think you could get away with propping me up in an open casket WITHOUT MY TEETH?????”

5. Beth Johnson - June 26, 2007

What a wonderful story. My mother passed away yesterday, and my sister and I have had several “gut busters” since. That is the way Mom would have wanted it. I think the folks at the “fun”eral home thought we were nuts.

6. Tim - June 26, 2007

Beth,

I am so sorry… I know that “it’s a part of life,” but I also know that’s little consolation. For me, the consolation came in finding all of these little things that Mom would have found hysterical. It sounds like the same thing happened for you. Thank you for sharing the laughs here. – Tim

7. lwayswright - January 2, 2009

That is all so funny. My family is exactly the same way! At grandma’s funeral we all got the giggles so hard it was difficult to make it through the funeral…and we all had to sing! Mom’s death, while very sad and hard for me to deal with her loss, was also handled with humor…you can read that story on my blog! It’s called “saying goodbye with laughter”. I totally appreciate what you say here!

8. Christopher Herber - December 6, 2010

Hi Tim,

Would you mimd if I use your stories in a book?

Chris

TimTheFoolMan - January 12, 2011

If you’re going to give me attribution, I have no problem with it. I’ve been considering the same thing. – Tim

9. Christopher James Conner - May 6, 2011

Very interesting story, I like the perspective. We are working on a project that will put more of this kind of feeling into the overall funeral process, I think it’s long overdue….losing someone doesn’t have to be dark and depressing.

10. Connie - June 16, 2011

You know Tim, the day we are born we start dying so I just don’t get the big deal of being so surprised when someone dies. The timing may not be our choice but we are all gonna’ go!!! Just the other day I was telling Kate exactly the way I want it done and she laughed and laughed–exactly the way I want it that day.

11. Rich McClure - June 16, 2011

I always enjoyed your Dad and Mom. I would have loved swapping funeral tales with them.

12. Christopher - September 24, 2011

when my grandfather passed away my brother told a joke in the funeral home and we laughed a little bit. A man came up to us, of whome we did not know, and told us he thought it was inapropraite for us to be laughing at such a time. My brother turned to him and said these exact words “who are you to tell us how to grieve?” Those words from my brother made good sense to me. We all need to grieve in different ways. Laughter can be good, when my best friend died my other friends and I were telling jokes the whole way to the funeral. We cried when we saw our friend in the casket, left the service room and started telling jokes again in the lobby. Emotion can be a funny thing sometimes…

13. cheryl wahlmeier - November 9, 2012

I have encountered death with many friends and relatives so I enjoyed seeing this side of it. Especially as a Christian I know I am going to see a lot of these people again…whether they want to see me or not!! I have told my husband I don’t want a casket but a room full of wonderful and funny pictures, lots of singing and plenty of fried chicken, brownies and diet caffeine free Dr. Pepper…everyone is invited to my graduation celebration!!


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