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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

In Other Words: Laughter Heals a Whole Lot of Hurt

This image has nothing to do with the story. Hope you laugh.
Family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances jammed the chapel for the graveyard service for my mother. The priest had begun when a youngish couple made an awkward noisy entrance. People moved back and they moved to the front. I didn’t recognize the couple, but then my mother knew a lot of people.

The priest began again and the couple began to fidget.  There were some hushed exchanges and then it happened. They realized that they were at the wrong funeral. Someone chuckled. Then some more chuckled. And then we all laughed as the young couple bowed their heads and rushed out of the room in search of the proper funeral.

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That laugh broke the tension. It was just what we needed at that moment. And isn’t that the case during a really trying time? It’s not being disrespectful; it’s recognizing the human element. After all, comedy and tragedy are flip sides of the same coin.

Shelley Schlarman Walsh tells a story about when her husband, Dan, a talented musician and much loved teacher, neared death a few years ago. He had developed brain cysts and the road to recovery was difficult.  Shelley says, “When Dan was at his absolute worse they called us all in to St. E’s to possibly say goodbye. Well, the call came in at 1:30 and Dan’s dad had already taken his Ambien for sleep. Dan [Jr.] looked dead, hooked up to every possible machine. And here comes Dan Sr. dancing like Danny Kaye in “White Christmas” high as a kite! He started taking one dollar bills out of his wallet and dancing around Dan’s hospital bed.  As crazy as it seems it brought laughter that I needed at that exact moment.” Thank goodness Dan avoided that Hollywood sendoff.

Lynnea Bennett, who owns Embellish Salon in Bellevue, tells a story about her grandmother’s funeral.  Lynnea says, “She was going to be buried in the family plot next to her parents.” They lived in a small town far enough away where life was hard. “Whenever she and my Grandpa would drive anywhere… they were poor so there was no stopping for food on the way so she always had a box of food in the car, fruit, crackers, a thermos of coffee etc. Even when I was a kid there was always food in a box in the car. We still don't know who did it, but in the back of the hearse with her coffin was a box of snacks for her last trip. We laughed and cried at the same time.” Now that family knows how to make the solemn sunny.

Kym Wilson Grillot tells a story about a friend’s family who took their faith to a new level.  Kym says, “My friends lost their grandparents in close succession. [On] the night of the second funeral, like the good Milwaukee Catholics they were, the grandkids stopped at a bar for a drink or ten. The bar sold bottled liquor and they bought a bottle of liquor - in a Pope John Paul II decanter! They all did shots in honor of their grandparents. Fast forward to the next family reunion. They filled the same Pope decanter with new liquor and toasted to their grandparents. To keep the tradition going, they put names in a hat and the winner had to bring it back to the next reunion filled with more liquor. I had the honor of attending one of the reunions and toasted their grandparents right along with the family! Well, one year the Arkansas cousin won it and the next year the Pope came back filled with moonshine, wearing a pair of handmade overalls, a bandana and a cowboy hat! It was a riot! But the real story for me was witnessing the genuine affection of the family for their grandparents, their Catholic faith, that Pope decanter and each other, and it still makes me smile.”  I’ll toast to that!

This image has nothing to do with the story as well. But I might be late.

Maryanne Zeleznik’s uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Maryanne says, “He had done well for a while, but things then started getting worse and Mike, the minister at church, and his son-in-law and a couple of friends, prayed over him at church. Later he wasn't able to get to church so they came to pray over him at the house. He wasn't really talking then, but they talked to him and said Mike was going to pray over him again, [and asked] would that be okay? He sat up and said ‘No It would not....look what happened the last time he prayed for me.’ Mike told the story at my uncle's funeral. It brought the house down.” 

Laughter is a celebration of life, our foibles, our insecurities, and our humanity. All comedy is rooted in tragedy. The great comic Sid Caesar said, “Crying and laughing are the same emotion. If you laugh too hard, you cry. And vice versa.” Laughter reminds us that even our darkest day has a little sunshine.  And that is why I choose to face this disease, this lymphoma, and its treatments by recognizing the humor. Because laughter heals a whole lot of hurt.


  1. thank you for sharing my family story. It really was a relief to laugh and know that Grandma would have approved of the snack box.

  2. Brilliant, Chuck. Even in the most somber of times, laughter remains the best medicine. Thanks for sharing this. The funeral crashers are the best!!

  3. Chuck, My dad was getting very forgetful and my brother Rick and I had no luck taking away his car keys, so we disabled his car. One night as we were driving home, my wife, Mary Beth spotted Dad going north on US 27 heading for his girlfriend's house! He had called the local repair guys who promptly fixed his car.

    I still swear that he did these type of things to get even with us for what we put him through as kids.

    The moral of this story is; take advantage of the situation and get away with things you would like to do but propriety says not to do. (sorry for the weird word construct - hope it makes sense)
    Let's get a cup of coffee and swap more stories whenever you're available