As Christmas draws near and the hustle and bustle of this blustery (rainy) season turns into mad dashes and panic to find that perfect gift, which the recipient doesn't really need or want, I have to take a minute to breathe. I have to take a step back and remember that this season is not about presents or perfect parking spaces. It's not about the stress of how much money you spent (is it too much? is it not enough?). It's not about what you ate, how much you ate, what you want to eat, etc.etc.etc. It is about who you spend this season with. It's about good times and creating memories that you will always be able to cherish.
This season I will try to work out at least once a day, but I'm not going to stress about it. I am going to surround my myself with the people, friends and family alike, who I love and love me back. And I will laugh. That's the point right?
So as I'm sure this is the last post you'll read before January I'd like to leave you with a feature article that I wrote two years ago for my dad. A man who loved Christmas and his family and knew how to do it right. With booze, food and loved ones.
So in my nostalgic Christmas moment I'd also like to ask you to step back and breathe. And laugh.
When is it Okay to Laugh Again?
Death is the only truly inevitable part of life. Everyone knows that death takes away, but anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one knows that death also brings a lot of things. It brings pain and sorrow, endings and goodbyes. It brings memories of the happy times but mostly it brings questions. Why him or her? What does this mean for me? Where do I go from here? And after the sudden death of my father, my friend, it left one question gnawing at my soul. When is it okay to laugh again?
My father was 57 when he was taken away from us. After a yearlong battle with throat cancer, most likely caused by second hand smoke, his heart suddenly stopped beating. The radiation that cured him from his cancer silently weakened his heart until it had no choice but to stop. Throughout this ordeal he never faltered. He was strong, had faith and a positive attitude. And most importantly he laughed every day. Though the cancer changed his appearance, he refused to let it change who he was as a person. He was at work at the time of his death, and we were notified by two police officers and our parish priest at 5:48 a.m. on April 21, 2005.
Our extended family on my mom’s side is extremely close. Literally. My aunt and uncle live across the street. So by 6 a.m. on that tragic day they had already begun to gather in our family home. As my uncle picked me up off the floor I remember wondering how he could possibly have gotten there so fast. Apparently I wondered it out loud and was told by my cousin that he ran. My family always joked that the only things that could make Terry run were food or a family emergency. The image of my short and very unfit uncle running at full speed with my aunt trailing behind him made me burst into laughter. Instantly I felt guilty. How could I be laughing when I had just learned of my dad’s death? How inappropriate of me I thought, as I stifled my laughter. What I didn’t realize was that that would only be the first of many times I would laugh in the days leading up to his burial.
My father was an extremely private person. He hated the idea of everyone knowing his business and couldn’t fathom the idea of Facebook . He didn’t even take calls unless he knew who was on the other end of the telephone. This meant many arguments in my house. Often the phone would ring off the hook, and my sister, my mother or I would run in to try to catch the caller only to find dad sitting right next to the phone and not picking it up. “Why can’t you answer the phone?!” one of us would always scream in frustration. And he would always laugh and repeat the same line. “It was an unknown caller and I don’t want to talk to anybody I don’t know.”
This habit was the topic of conversation before one of dad’s afternoon wakes. Though dad’s family wasn’t close like moms, in fact they weren’t close at all; dad’s brother had come to town for the services. He casually said “Speaking of calls. Have you heard from Uncle Jerry?”
“Uncle Jerry?” We all repeated at the same time.
“Yeah,” he chuckled. “Your Uncle Gerard goes by Jerry. Has for years now.”
I suddenly burst into laughter again. This time my mind flashing back to a few weeks prior when the phone rang and a loud male voice said “Hello Darlin’, this is Jerry. Is Don there?” Instead of telling dad the phone was for him I quickly assumed he knew no one by that name, told Jerry that “No Don lives here.” And promptly hung up on my uncle.
The minute the laughter escaped my lips I felt a surge of guilt in the pit of my stomach. I was about to go see my father for the last time and I was sitting on a comfy couch, sipping green tea, and laughing. I was officially going to hell. No, I was going to under hell. The place for people so terrible that hell is too good for them. I felt like a horrible person, so I pushed the laughter aside and assumed my role as the grieving daughter.
The next morning we somberly dressed and piled into the family car, bracing ourselves for the funeral service. As I mentioned before dad was very private and so we expected a small turn out of family and very close friends. We knew dad wouldn’t have wanted something big and extravagant that just wasn’t who he was. But as we made the turn to face the church we saw that the parking lot was overflowing with cars, the spill over cars lined the streets before and after the church. Then we noticed the bus. There was nothing subtle about it. It was a full size, crimson red bus with the words “Canadian Coast Guard” splashed across it in gleaming white. Dad had worked at the Coast Guard College and had apparently touched many lives. He would have been mortified. And my bottled up laughter erupted. This time everyone else in the family car laughed too so I didn’t feel as bad. Hey, if I had to go to Underhell then at least they were all coming with me.
We gained our composure and entered the church. It was standing room only. He would not have been pleased. I prayed to god to not let me laugh as we followed the pall bearers ups the isle. That would have gone over well. I probably would have been struck by lightning.
The first three rows in the church were reserved for family members. We took our seats and the service began. I don’t remember everything that was said that day, I mean no one really pays in attention in church do they? But I do remember the priest calling my perpetually late father, “the late Donald Parsley” to which I accidentally said out loud “Nope! He’ll never be late again!” And hysterically burst into laughter along with the entire three family rows.
Leaving the church was not so funny. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. To walk away and leave him there was very sobering. As we again sat in the family car and waited to be driven to the graveyard for a final blessing it became quiet, almost awkward. My four year old cousin was with us because he refused to leave my mother’s side. He started to squirm and to entertain him we made funny faces at the mourners leaving the church through the tinted car windows. My mom calmly looked me and said “Lenore, the windows are just dark honey. They can all see you.” And this time I was mortified, and they all burst into laughter.
When I said leaving the church was the hardest thing I ever had to do, I lied. Leaving the final blessing at the graveyard was. As I stood next to my father’s grave clutching roses and crying harder than I could ever remember crying my aunt approached me cautiously. She was cautions for 2 reasons. First because she wanted me to have my alone time and second because it was April and there was still quite a bit of ice and snow in the cemetery. As she stepped closer to me her foot fell through what she thought was hard packed snow and she fell at my feet screaming “Jesus Lenore, its your father trying to take me with him!”
“Or at least tell me something” she said as she stood up, brushed herself off and joined me in my laughter.
Even in that moment of extreme despair I found myself laughing hysterically. And it dawned on me that she was right. He was trying to tell her something. He was trying to tell us all something. We should never be afraid to laugh. In moments where life crumbles around us, or changes so drastically it’s hard to believe or even understand, we must hold on to a constant. And why shouldn’t that constant be laughter? Coping with death is different for everyone. For me I look back and realize that dad would have laughed and he would have wanted me to laugh too. So when life brings death and death brings the question that gnaws at your soul: “When is it okay to laugh again?” I now know that the answer is we must never stop laughing in the first place.