I know the following story will sound completely fictitious as though it were written for a sitcom. And since I am a writer of fiction, I would understand your skepticism. And if I had not been there, I might have questioned its veracity as well.
But as an eyewitness, I am here to declare: If you were to ask me to swear in a court of law on a Bible whether or not this story is true, I will say “Aye”—in between bouts of laughter.
The event did not start out as a laughable matter. On the contrary, we were a funeral procession heading to the cemetery to bury our mother. It was hardly the scenario for comedy.
As we solemnly approached the tent set up over Mom’s coffin, we were grateful for the shade offered on this 99-degree afternoon. It seemed an appropriate temperature since Mom was 99 years of age when she died two days prior.
Several seats had been set up facing the coffin and floral arrangements added color to the glistening white box that held my Mom’s remains. The kindly gentlemen from the funeral home offered the cloth-covered fold-up chairs to anyone who would like to sit. My sister JoAnn, never one to hesitate in her response to an offer, accepted the invitation and sat in the middle seat. This is when the comedic routine began.
No sooner had JoAnn settled comfortably onto the chair when it suddenly flipped over backwards, thrusting her on her back with legs in the air.
“I’m all right,” she squawked, in between fits of giggles. Everyone rushed to her side to make sure she was OK. She kept laughing and blurted out, “It’s a good thing I wasn’t wearing a skirt.”
By now, the rest of the family was smothering giggles as well. Trying to compose ourselves, we repositioned the chairs on sturdier footing. With just a hint of hesitation, several of us bravely sat down—and leaned forward for safety.
Suddenly my sister Chris leaped to her feet. “Ow!” she yelled. “Something pricked me! Ow!”
No one could imagine what might cause her such discomfort. My sweet, take-charge niece, Renee, raced toward her aunt and started checking where Chris’ hand was rubbing in pain. Renee pulled out her aunt’s waistband, saw a beetle biting her, reached in and removed the offending insect. She squished the attacking creature and joked about rescuing her aunt’s derriere.
By now I was choking on laughter that threatened to burst out of my throat. Clutching the paper with the words to “How Great Thou Art” that I was to sing in a matter of moments, I prayed, “Lord, help us get this serious service back on track!”
My husband, Steve, who was standing there waiting for calm so he could begin the prayer service, was biting his own cheeks to keep from belly laughing.
It appeared for a moment that calm would ensue and we all held our breath, waiting now for the service to begin. Steve started to speak, and a large vase of flowers tipped over, scattering blooms and flooding his leather shoes in a pool.
By now, no one could keep a straight face. We were laughing so hard, even the funeral employees were struggling to keep a straight face.
I don’t know how long we laughed—but it felt good. After days of sometimes forgetting to breathe, we were all inhaling deeply in chuckles of joy. It was wonderful.
But I was beginning to despair that we would ever get to our purpose for being here: To honor our mother. With chairs secured, beetles crushed and vases removed, Steve took a deep breath and began.
It was perfect. He spoke words of comfort and joy and celebration of eternity. Everything was now as planned.
After the prayer, I stood up and readied to sing the ancient Irish hymn, celebrating Mom’s Celtic heritage. With the Lords help, I managed to get through the entire song without crying—or laughing.
Following the last verse of “Be Thou My Vision,” a hushed, stillness enveloped the group. No one moved or spoke. It was a reverent moment, remembering the life of an awesome lady who had touched our lives—children and grandchildren—who had gathered to honor her memory. For such a usually rambunctious crowd, the silence was unexpected. And precious.
As we watched the casket slowly lowered into the ground, my sister Mary tossed in a single pink rose—one last offering of love before bidding mom farewell.
Walking back to the cars, we were sad yet joyful that Mom was no longer in pain. And we were so grateful for the moments of laughter that broke the tension of our grief.
The best part of the unexpected moments of comedy was knowing how much our Mom would have enjoyed it. After all, the woman had once laughed hysterically watching a Jane Austen movie when the heroine kept repeating the same, dramatic expression over and over. By the middle of that movie, three of us sisters had had to ask Mom and JoAnn to please go in the other room because they couldn’t stop laughing and ruining “Persuasion.”
We all agreed that, if our mother could see this graveside service, she would likely be overcome with chuckles.
Somehow, laughing at the cemetery seemed a fitting way to say “goodbye.”