I attended Uncle Mayhem‘s funeral about three weeks ago. At my aunt’s house before we went to the church, I’d been there about ten minutes before I noticed Kiddo1 looking shocked. I pulled him aside and said, “This is how Italian funerals work. We laugh.”
There’s the initial greeting, of course, the condolences and the comfort. And then within five minutes, you have the first outrageous story involving the deceased, and after that you’re pretty much off to the races. That’s how it is in my family, and because that’s all I ever knew, I’d assumed that’s just how funerals go.
Kiddo1, who assumed for some reason that a funeral would be filled with sad, crying people, had no idea what to make of the dissonance. But in my family, that’s how we mourn. We share. We laugh together. If we can laugh at something, we can make it through.
My father tells me Irish funerals are the same. My Patient Husband, on the other hand, says no, in his family that kind of thing never happens.
“Your relatives are more colorful,” he says. “There aren’t family tall tales like that.”
I said, “Come on,” and told a story about Uncle Mayhem and my grandfather that involved unpasteurized milk and a real-life dose of farm animals. “No,” my Patient Husband said. “My mother would be mortified if someone told a story like that about her at her wake, something crazy and a little embarrassing.”
Until that moment, I hadn’t thought about that story as even remotely embarrassing. Uncle Mayhem was on the receiving end of the laughter, but if he’d been there, he’d have taken over telling the story from my aunt and probably hammed it up even more. Embarrassed? No, he’d have laughed loudly and probably slapped the table and then followed it up with an even funnier story.
Well, that’s what I want. If I show up in ghostly form at my own wake, I want to hear laughter. I want to hear funny stories spanning back decades, key moments that exemplify what we all loved about each other, maybe a little exaggeration here and there, but overall a sense that we all truly lived our lives as who we are.
No punches pulled, no pretending I lived a life of dignity and reservation. Life is story. So talk about the time I went all New-Yorker on that employee who mistreated my kid or how I turned in the gas station manager engaged in insurance fraud. Laugh about the time I bit into kim chee without knowing what it was and saw actual sparks.
If I were there, I’d be laughing right along with you. I’d probably tell you some detail you forgot, and that would lead to another story still.