At the opening ceremony of TCF’s National Conference held in 2003, Maria Housden, author of the marvelous book, Hannah’s Gift, was the featured speaker. She began by telling how that morning she had conversed with a man she met on the elevator. When he asked her why she was staying in Atlanta she told him that she was there as a speaker for The Compassionate Friends, a organization offering support and hope for parents, siblings and grandparents who had suffered the
death of a child.
As oftentimes happens when hearing what TCF is, the man suddenly was at a loss for words. As he got off the hotel elevator he broke the silence by turning to Ms. Housden and said, “Well, knock em’ dead!”
Of course, the man was mortified after he realized what he had just said; his inadvertent remark was simply a common phrase often used as a send off to someone about to tackle an audience. Unfortunately, not exactly a well-timed or good choice of words considering the situation, but certainly not intentional!
It was easy to tell which people attending the opening ceremony
were still quite fresh in their grief and who were the seasoned grievers (those further down the grief road from their child’s death) solely by their reaction to Ms. Housden’s attention grabbing opening to her speech. As I looked around at the faces of those sitting near me, it was quite obvious who was who.
I thought back to my own early grief. I had always considered myself someone with a very good sense of humor, but the days and months following my daughter Nina’s death, I couldn’t imagine finding humor in ANY situation EVER again. I remember witnessing the laughter of strangers and thinking, “Didn’t they know my daughter was dead? Hadn’t their world been shattered into a zillion fragments like mine had?”
My first experience with someone trying to mix a little humor with grief was renowned and much loved speaker, Darcie Sims, a grief psychologist. I saw her at a conference for bereaved parents held in Minneapolis barely a year after my daughter’s death. I was shocked at how someone could make me laugh out loud and then bring me to tears in almost the same breath.
At first I was uncomfortable with my own laughter. But I think it helped that Darcie was herself a bereaved parent and therefore she had “been there” too. Just as I had seen the more seasoned grievers in my TCF group enjoy laughter again, Darcie’s humorous, yet poignant speech gave me hope that I would one time too hear the sound of my own laughter and be comfortable with it— something I thought was an impossibility.
There is, of course, disgustingly unsuitable “humor” where grief is
concerned. I am repeatedly appalled at what I see and hear from the so-called comedians on late-night TV, who seem to find hilarity in the most inappropriate topics: I have heard jokes made about drunk drivers, cancer, suicide, and AIDS with alarming regularity.
Obviously, these same “comedians” have never felt the sting of death of someone they loved that was caused by any of the above causes. My oldest daughter is an actor and used to perform for what are called Murder Mystery Dinner Theaters. For example, one of the advertisements read: “Where Murder is Always on the Menu!” She admitted that until her sister Nina died that she didn’t really think about how, though seemingly innocent, these shows could be hurtful to those whose loved ones had suffered such an atrocity and how
personally painful this mockery of death had become to her after
the loss of her little sister.
I know what I, in my early grief, thought about laughter— truthfully, I didn’t care if I ever laughed again. I remember a dear friend telling me how she was so tired of hearing from other non-bereaved. “Your daughter wouldn’t want you to be so sad. She would want to hear you laugh.”To which my friend sternly answered, “No she wouldn’t—she would want me to hurt.”
This was early grief talking. The misconception here is that we
oftentimes feel that by laughing, we are somehow dishonoring our children, by appearing as if our renewed interest in enjoyment of life again meant we stopped caring about and loving them.
However, we all know deep down that could never be true; we know it is possible to find some humor in unison with the intense forever love of our children, no matter how much we miss them. I know that the aforementioned friend, who is now a “seasoned” griever, would agree.
And though you may not be ready to hear it now, eventually, somewhere down the road (remember: there are no timetables in grief – our grief experience is as individual as we are), you will remember a funny story from your child’s life and it will feel good to remember it
with laughter. And I truly believe your child will smile and laugh along with you.
Cathy Seehuetter 2011Tags: signs and connections