The Best Medicine

October 17, 2013

I come from a family of funny people.  At my Uncle Joe’s funeral, his siblings pinned a button on his lapel that said, “Damn, I’m good!”  He was wearing that in his casket.  Can you picture it?  People would go up to pay their respects and just start giggling.  They joked during the eulogies.  I’m pretty sure the funeral director did not know what to do with us.

Finding the humor in things has always been a survival technique for me.  When I feel insecure in a group, I tell a joke.  When I’m in a stressful situation, I try to find a way to keep things light.  Laughing helps me cope.  Even when things get bad.

photo by knips
photo by knips

Sometimes everything is so ridiculously out of your control that you just have to laugh.

Picture this:
I was eight months pregnant with our third boy. My husband had taken the other boys out, and I was home alone and able to take a leisurely shower, something I didn’t often do.  I was taking my good old time when I started thinking that the sound of the water echoing in the shower was something I hadn’t noticed before. Gosh, I thought, it sounds like a babbling brook or something – very relaxing. I finished my shower and turned off the water. Except the sound didn’t stop. I opened the curtain and saw that there was two inches of water all over the bathroom floor. The toilet had clogged and then continued running until it overflowed.

Quickly, I jumped out of the shower (as much as a pregnant woman can) and turned off the water supply to the toilet.  Think!  I couldn’t even think of where to start making this better.  I grabbed every towel out of the linen closet and started sopping it up, but there was still so much more.  And now the towels were so heavy I could hardly pick them up off the floor. I tossed them, soaked, into the shower and saw that I had hardly made a dent in the mess. Then I remembered the shop vac.  I threw on a bathrobe that didn’t even close and ran down to the garage to search for it.  As I got to the bottom of the steps, I could hear the water dripping down behind the walls.  I had to be fast or else it would start soaking through the drywall.  We have a huge, industrial-sized shop vac, and I finally found it and dragged it upstairs, still dripping wet myself.  By now, the water was seeping out into the carpet of the bedroom, and I frantically plugged in the shop vac a few feet outside the bathroom door and turned it on. 

Thankfully, it served to eliminate the water in the bathroom quickly and effectively, and I started to calm down a little bit as I saw that I was making progress.  I took my time and made sure I was getting up as much of it as I could, knowing that there were no more towels to use.  I vacuumed myself out of the bathroom, and as I got to the door, I started to feel water spraying my head.  It was only then that I looked back and realized that the vacuum had merely been sucking the water out of the bathroom and shooting it all over the bedroom!  Our entire bed was soaked, along with the floor, the dressers, the walls, and the ceiling. And I didn’t have a single dry towel.

I can remember the feeling of shock and horror I felt as I turned around and saw the mess in the bedroom.  But I just started laughing.  It was all so absurdly out of my control that I felt like I was in a sitcom.  Sure, my laugh may have had a tinge of the maniacal to it, but I felt the stress leaving me as I resigned myself to what had happened and found the humor in it.

When we lose someone we love – a cousin, a grandparent, a friend – it is healing to remember the good times we had with that person.  To think about the funny things they said or did and how wonderful they were.  But when a baby dies, we don’t have those times to hold on to.  We don’t have fun memories.  We might have some precious moments that we treasure.  But they’re not funny.  Losing a baby will just never come back around to funny.  And that is so hard.

That doesn’t mean that laughter isn’t healing, though.  I know that in my early days of loss, it felt like I would never laugh again.  I cried daily for so many weeks and months that my eyes were permanently swollen and burning.  Then those first few times of finding fun again felt like a betrayal to my grief.  Like I should not be allowed to smile or enjoy myself because my babies are dead.  And the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach simply does not work.  It makes things worse.  So putting on a brave face for others, or giving a limp, half-hearted smile because you know someone does not want to see your tears anymore does nothing to heal your heart.  It has to be for you and not for them.

But when we can finally find the fun again – being with dear friends, doing something we love – when we finally get to the place where we can enjoy something again, it is so very healing.  Somehow, laughing with the people we love can bring healing to the part of us that wants to weep for the people we have lost.  Love, loss, tears, and laughter are all intertwined.  They are all a part of this beautiful life.

You might not be there yet, and that is okay.  You can’t force it.  It just has to happen.

But the fun will come again someday.  I promise.

  • Eileen Tully

    Eileen Tully is an artist and mother of nine, with five children on earth and four in heaven. She creates memorial artwork for babies lost to stillbirth and infant death, and writes about life after loss at Little Winged Ones.

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