Monday, September 25, 2006

Of death and laughter

The other night my friends and I went to visit a former colleague (CB) whose father had died. The wake was being held at a funeral parlor attached to a church. It was a typical scene: several parlors sitting side by side, with many of the visitors spilling out of the rooms to smoke while chatting. You can hear people laughing and talking about all sorts of things.

CB is a very pretty woman, but that night everyone could tell that she was plain exhausted. Not surprising, what with having to greet all the visitors while keeping an eye on her very energetic sons, too. I asked her if she cried the first time she saw her dad in the casket. She said she didn't. Her recounting of the events before, during, and after her father's death brought back a flood of memories.

I lost my dad many, many years ago. I don't remember if I actually cried in his hospital room at the moment of his death…but I must have. I do remember with startling clarity the up-down motion of his respirator in the final moments, and the way it stopped, its irrevocable stillness. After that, it was a haze of preparing for the wake, the funeral, informing the numerous friends and relatives of his passing, helping my siblings with taking care of our mother.

Wakes (or lamay, in the local parlance) are strange events here sometimes. If not for the presence of the casket, you would think that you were attending quite a convivial occasion because there's usually lots of laughter. First, the visitors would go up to the coffin and view the remains. Then there would be conversation with family members and/or other guests. My dad's wake was like a big family reunion...relatives from all over the country came over. My uncles and my cousins played Scrabble or cards all night, and conversation was nonstop. Food and beverage flowed. When my friends came to visit me, it was a riot. Sure, they tried to be somber at first...behave the "proper" way. But in no time at all, anecdotes about my dad as well as their own dads had us in stitches. And the fact that we knew we weren't supposed to be laughing made it all the more difficult to stop.

But on the day of my dad's funeral, as I watched the casket being lowered into the ground, it suddenly hit me hard. The finality of it all broke my heart.

I would never again see him finish the paper's crossword puzzle in record time on a daily basis.

I would never again laugh at his corny jokes.

I would never again experience his unique way of driving: super fast, yet ultra smooth.

I would never again see him relax over a snifter of brandy that my mother had poured for him.

I would never again hear those dratted sneezes that never failed to shake the whole house.

It was then that the tears started to fall.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful memories of your father. I think that the ability to have memories and have them come back to us when something triggers them is truly a gift. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lizza,

I think the pain never does go away, it transforms.

I used to wake up in the middle of the night, always in a panic, because when I remember the pain my wife, M, suffered from her cancer, coupled with the heavy weight of remembrance and longing for her, it seemed unbearable.

I took it not a day at a time, Lizza, but a couple of breaths at a time. I could not manage thinking about how long a certain day was going to be without her - without folding inside and out and collapsing unto the uncertainty of this direction that I used to share with someone but which now I have to reassess, with her having ended her part of the journey. But with a handful of breaths - enough to wake up everyday to see my son off to school, enough to face the working day, enough to write on my blog, enough to meet the world outside my house, enough to put a spoonful of rice in my mouth, enough to close my eyes at night and make temporary peace with my shadows.

Then somehow, each morning became more fluid.

Remember, Lizza: breathfuls. =)

Mimi Lenox said...

I am sorry for your friend's loss and yours of many years ago - yet still fresh in your mind. We seem to be talking a lot about dads these days. The memories you shared were moving. Thank you for letting us know him a little better through you.
I haven't lost my dad - but have come close several times - your post reminds me to spend as much quality time with him as I possibly can.
Thank you.

Lizza said...

Michael: Thank you for your comment. The memories are wonderful; they make us laugh now. We still miss him, but we can rejoice in the memories.

HB: I can't even begin to imagine the pain of your loss. My parents shared so many wonderful years of marriage; you and M seemed to have been only a young couple when she passed away. Thank YOU for sharing. My shadows are of an entirely different ilk altogether, and if they threaten to overwhelm me (which they are wont to do), I'll remember: deep breaths, moment to moment. Thanks, HB.

Lizza said...

Mimi: Yes, fathers have been in quite a few beautiful blog posts recently--yours and Irene's in particular. I wouldn't have blogged about Daddy today if not for the floodgate of memories opened up by the other night's visit to CB. Thanks for the comment, Mimi.

ian said...

I've been fortunate thus far not to really experience loss through death. All my grandparents have died, but I was never really close to any of them. I've experienced loss in other ways almost as profound, though. I feel your pain, Lizza.

Perhaps you could look at it like this: your father brought so much joy to people during his lifetime; isn't it fitting that he brought so much joy and laughter with his death? I'll bet he would have wanted exactly that, and he's still chuckling over it from whatever green fields he's inhabiting nowadays.


Irene Tuazon said...

Oh, Lizza! You just blogged about one of my HUGEST fears in this life - losing any of my parents. I come from a very tight-knit family and I cannot even begin to imagine how it would be if we were to be suddenly rendered incomplete.

All we can do really is to make every moment count while we can. Thanks so much for reminding me of this.

Kiyotoe said...

The first close relative I lost was my paternal grandfather a few years ago and even while he was sick, I don't think as a mid-20's young man, I was ready for how I would feel as we lowered him into the ground. Very similar to your experience, during that time, in the snow, during a cold Jersey winter, I cried like a baby for the first time in several years and couldn't stop.

Unfortunately, now I know what to expect when that time comes again.

Doc said...

I've lost both of my parents--my dad 6 years ago and my mom almost 11 now. Their wakes were rather riotous as well, and my brother and I were in stitches for the entire duration of my father's funeral. Dad had his own version of the 23rd psalm: ye, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the evilest son of a bitch in the valley... and when the hell-fire and brimstone Southern Baptist preacher, a neighbor (Dad was not religious at all, and though his thinking was more along the lines of Roman Catholic, he wanted someone who knew him to do his service), started in on his sermon, that's all I had running through my head.
The laughter is good--helps ya get through the rest

H said...

it's a bit blurred, this screen, but I think i can type.

first off, a big hug.

i am suddenly lost for words. strangely. ha.

Yaxlich said...

Yaxlich too is lost for words and equally finds the screen a little too blurred to see properly. He thanks Lizza for writing such a beautiful post.

NanNan said...

That lowering into the ground-- a horrible recurring visual--- and so many never agains--- although I have faith in God and an eternal life, every now and then I wonder,I wonder, if we created this fantasy as the only way of coping with the pain of the never agains--- My heart is with you-and your dad, who is not forgotten. There will be an again !!

Anonymous said...

this was beautiful and I'm glad I stumbled upon it. I lost my brother last year, so I can connect with many of the sentiments you described. Hopefully we all go on coping as best we can.

I'm adding you to my links so I may come back and read more. Feel free to visit my site anytime and say hello. :)


Julie said...

I agree with Ian. I think it's wonderful that you were able to laugh and reminisce about your father through joy. Funerals don't always have to be about sorrow. Remember, you can't spell funeral without fun. Ok, that was awful, but seriously, I think your father would have enjoyed attending his own funeral/wake. :-)

Lizza said...

Ian: Chuckling is right. I just hope he doesn't scare whoever else is in the green fields with him with his godawful sneezes.

Irene: I'm sorry! I didn't mean to put unpleasant thoughts into your head. But you're right: we should make every moment with those who count, count.

Kiyotoe: You know, it impresses me when a man is man enough to cry. I hope you don't suffer such a loss anytime again soon. Maybe even never, but that would be too much to wish for.

Doc: Sounds like your dad had one hell of a sense of humor! And it lives on in his daughter, I think. :-)

H: A big hug right back at ya. You sweet girl.

Yaxlich: is most welcome. I am glad the memories I shared touched him. I hope his eyes are back to normal now.

Nannan: The happy and sad memories you have of your son are just as fresh, aren't they? I agree there'll be an 'again' one day.

Macoosh: Welcome! Thank you for your kind words, and I'm sorry for your loss. I'll be visiting your site, count on it! I love discovering new blogs. :-)

Julie: Haha! I love that, funeral without fun. I think it's true. It's like mourning a passing and celebrating his/her life at the same time. :-)

Prometheus said...

Prometheus is speechless. This post has touched a raw nerve. He wants to go to heaven and stay with all the people who left him. Only, The Establishment might reject Prometheus' visa application to heaven.

Lizza said...

Prometheus, I hope that doesn't mean you want to depart this world right now! And if the Establishment rejects your visa application, we can all party with the other rejects wherever we end up. Haha!

chandra said...


randomly browsing blogs i came across yours. your post makes very good reading .
come, meet me at my place:

warm wishes


chandra said...


why does your post make good reading?

coz it teaches me to cope with my loss.

love chandra