On Death and Laughing

My grandmother died last week. We got the news over the phone. She was 96. My mother
asked, “what’d she die of?” I roared: “she died of OLD AGE, what else do you think she died of, a stubbed toe? She was OLD.” Later that day, my mother, was getting versed in age old Jewish rituals of mourning: the tearing of the shirt, sitting low and buying a big candle that must be lit for seven days of mourning, what Jews call, sitting Shiva.  I laughed. I mocked. I guess I’m afraid of death, and crack jokes to assuage myself. I hadn’t seen or spoken with my grandmother in thirty-six years. (Long story.)

And yet, I couldn’t help seeing humor. My mother looked funny reclining in the frame of her sofa, like a buddha, in her neon pink t-shirt and sweats. A friend bought her a mega mourner’s candle which I kept blowing out each night because I was afraid of a fire. My mother was livid, afraid, her dead mother’s spirit would get god to zap her.

And the coffee table. It groaned under the weight of spongy cakes, fruit trays and beverages, hot andShiva-Candle cold. It looked like a buffet. But it was nice, heartening, to see how many people cared for, doted on, my mother. They talked, cajoled, shared food and grocery information and intermittently my mother shared distant childhood memories. Collectively they condemned the Israeli Rabbi for not coming to visit with her. “The nerve of that man.” “Disgusting.” “What kind of Rabbi is that?” “I know a better one. He’s de best.” “A Lubavitch Rabbi would have come.” It was much needed comfort and distraction.

Yet, there was room for sadness too, in private mostly, in person or over the phone. My sistershiva-mourning told her to focus on happy childhood memories, not just bad ones. We surrounded mum with compassion and patience, for the most part. My younger brother brought her healthy, home-cooked meals and they played Rummy-Q. Tucker, the lick monster dog, joined my older brother on his visits. I poked fun at the rituals but not at her ambivalent grief and sadness. I served her many visitors with devotion except a few who came empty handed and talked non-stop for four hours. Was I wrong to laugh, at times? Maybe yes and maybe no 🙂


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