“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”
– Erma Bombeck
Like many of you, after losing my son to suicide, I felt stuck in a place of sadness where there are no pleasant memories. It took years for this story to surface in my mind.
I share it to encourage you.
If my life is a worthy example, you will not remain forever in a dark place; mirth is likely to bubble up eventually.
My dragging steps got lighter over time, but by no means will I ever forget my precious firstborn child.
No matter where we are in our grief journeys today, we can expect to go through highs and lows throughout the rest of our lives.
Change is inevitable, even in grief.
I walked the yard this evening, picking up broken limbs from the recent wind and rain. The muggy air reminded me of another evening some years before. I choose to share with you a story, which surprisingly, takes me to a time when laughter was out of place.
If you think our actions were inappropriate, I might be inclined to agree, except… I was there.
Our house was bulging at the seams with people from both sides of the family, which was the first of its kind since our wedding many years before. I hated the reason for this gathering. Every fiber of my being rebelled at its necessity.
The reason? A funeral would be taking place.
Our firstborn had done the unthinkable by taking his own life.
Vehicles arrived and packed the driveway. As more people came, cars spilled onto the lawn.
Although grateful for the outpouring of love, I was in overload by the sheer volume of humanity. People gathered in little groups here and there, upstairs and down, getting introduced or reacquainted while I wanted to run and hide for the rest of my life.
It was typical late summer weather with hot temperatures matched by high humidity. The air conditioner was working overtime, trying to keep everyone comfortable.
As the sun dropped in the western sky, the temperature dropped just enough to make the outdoors a bit more inviting. The young people were drawn to the backyard. They set up lawn chairs in a circle to enjoy each other’s company. In so doing they put some much-desired space between themselves and the “old people” in the house.
As all of us have likely experienced those who are “young and restless” aren’t likely to wear sad faces for very long. In short order, they would be looking around for something to do besides sit and talk, even something fun.
Who could blame them? Naturally, we hadn’t planned anything for them. After all, this trip was out of necessity, not pleasure.
The family members who took over the kitchen saw that the kids got fed, but beyond that, they were on their own.
Taking a shortcut to the backyard through the garage, my step-son spied a Super Soaker water gun somewhere on top of my firstborn’s things. Retracing his steps, he retrieved it. Grinning, he showed it to me.
When I smiled my approval, he promptly took it to the faucet for filling. Without an exchange of words, I knew his target would be the gang relaxing in the backyard. In the semi-darkness, it would be easy for a prankster to creep up on the unsuspecting.
My sisters, niece, and I hid behind bushes at the corner of the house where we were close enough to watch what happened next, but well out of the way should the “circle” explode in all directions.
My step-son stealthily approached, keeping to the shadows until he got within firing range. Then whoosh… he shot a stream of water in the direction of the chatter. The kids jumped up, and chairs toppled backward. My son and nephews headed for the garden hose. A water war was on!
We ladies filled buckets, supplying “ammo” for either side in an attempt to stay neutral… and dry. Water hoses could stretch only so far, so the big guys were carrying buckets brimming with water, which they enthusiastically dumped over the head of any kid venturing into their line of fire.
For those few minutes, we were shrieking, laughing, and having a ball.
Our closest neighbors knew the reason for all the company. Perhaps to them, our whooping and hollering sounded disrespectful, but for a little bit of time, I could set aside the heaviness of grief and take a brief respite from the unbearable weight of it all.
This break was special, timely, and created a precious, “dripping” memory amid so much deep sorrow.
I had not thought of the Super Soaker incident in years. I was too sad to plan activities for the kids at the time; their wants were the farthest thing from my mind.
Yet, when the opportunity presented itself, it seemed quite natural to embrace it. Like his mother and his paternal grandfather before him, my firstborn son loved a good practical joke. The water gun most likely had been his, and it became the inspiration for the water fight.
Had my firstborn been there he would’ve happily been right in the thick of it and laughing his head off… Oh, how I miss his robust laugh! I long to hear it again.
Like I said at the beginning of this piece, I was unable to remember anything akin to humor the days and months following my loss when grief was so fresh, so raw.
It wasn’t until years later that this video clip replayed in my mind.
As Bombeck said in the quote above, there is little that separates our emotional highs and lows. For me, this memory illustrates the “thin line” she is talking about. It was an example of spontaneous grief relief, plain and simple.
It allowed my heart to escape the agony of overwhelming pain, if only for a few moments before the seriousness of sorrow quickly overtook me once again.
After all, our reality is only a thought away.
Those who think grief has a time limit are mistaken. If you have lost a piece of your heart, you know that there is no itinerary. No timetable. No judgment.
Grief is as individual as a snowflake or fingerprint. Just breathe, and do what feels right for your soul.