I went to a funeral today. My great uncle passed away a few days ago and the family gathered to remember him and celebrate his life.
I didn’t know him very well, or have very many memories of him, but as I was getting ready to leave for the service reflecting on just that, a surprising and unexpected memory seemed to float down from above and settle softly onto my mind…
I am standing next to Uncle Harry on the crisp green grass, under the shadow of a large towering tree to take shelter from the brightly shining sun, looking on as my grandma — his sister — is about to be lowered into the ground. Someone is wailing loudly, and I am of course sad, but also uncomfortable being surrounded by so many grieving people, and awkwardly unsure of how to act.
It’s in this moment that Uncle Harry catches my attention and, leaning over with a sparkle in his eye, quietly whispers a joke to me.
A zombie joke.
In a graveyard.
At a funeral.
His sister’s funeral.
Shocked and guiltily amused, I stifle a laugh as my own sister shoots a fierce glance in my direction that says “how dare you be so disrespectful.”
“Uh-oh, we’re in trouble,” whispers Uncle Harry mischievously, still with that sparkle.
“You’re like me,” he says quietly, “I can tell. We’d rather laugh than cry. We can honour her with our laughter and joy, too. But not everyone understands that.”
(I don’t recall his exact words so this is paraphrased but the meaning is the same.)
We all deal with grief differently. That day I learned that laughter-as-a-coping-mechanism, laughter-as-a-way-of-being ran in the family (well, some of the family anyway).
I may not have known Uncle Harry very well, but I will forever treasure that small moment when I learned one thing we shared in common. No matter how difficult and dark things can be, given the opportunity, we would both choose laughter.
There weren’t many jokes cracked at the funeral today. But I have a feeling if Uncle Harry was there, he would have had a few to share.