My sister and I are in the funeral home, sitting across from the mortician and our shoulders are shaking. Our eyes well up with tears. Our stomach muscles are aching, we can’t see, we can’t breathe. We can’t speak.
At first the mortician has his funeral parlor game face on. Then a look of discomfort and concern seeps in. Finally the dam breaks and, despite his professional demeanor, he just can’t help himself. He starts to laugh, too.
Our mother had been dead for less than 48 hours and we can’t stop laughing hysterically – in public. It was her worst nightmare. Not death. Our embarrassing behavior. “For God’s sake, try not to be the ‘Hee Hee Ha Ha’ girls. Have some composure.”
It really wasn’t our fault. We were triggered. Up until that point, planning the wake had all been very devout and respectful. We’d spent about fifteen minutes deciding on Mom’s holy card, that little laminated memento you take home and put in a drawer until you come across it later and think, “Has it really been thirteen years since Uncle Dennis died? That explains why I never get a Christmas card from him.” And then you put it back in the drawer.
We couldn’t decide on an image, so we settled on the variety pack of Saints. Then we had to pick the verse for the back of the card. That’s when the real trouble started.
We stumbled through a few remembered psalms and blessings: “He leadeth me beside still waters,” “Weep not, I am not there, I do not sleep,” “May the road rise to meet you…”
The mortician leafed through his big binder and said, “Oh, I have a special poem about mothers that might be perfect.” He cleared his throat and began, “Mother, never did you speak a harsh word…”
And that’s when we lost it. This guy clearly did not know our mother. Mother did speak a harsh word or two, often while chasing us through the apartment with a large wooden spoon. We’d lock ourselves in the bathroom and wait her out until she’d give up and go have a smoke.
Fifty years of trying to figure out this complicated woman, combined with all the grief of losing her suddenly, was released in a historic giggle fit that would have definitely prompted a few harsh words from our stubborn, Irish mother. But once the storm had passed, she would have rolled her eyes about it and then joined us in laughing, in spite of herself. For all her struggles, she loved to laugh. For all our struggles with her, we loved it when she laughed.
And we loved to laugh with her.