Aunt Freida

“A joyful heart is good medicine . . .” Proverbs 17:22

We are standing in the back of a large room being used as the gathering place following Aunt Frieda’s funeral service. Dad and I had arrived just a few minutes late, and are now attending the reception.

Being extremely busy, I was delayed in picking up my dad who lived 50 miles away. Compounding the late departure was the necessity of purchasing a new coat, and then driving another 200 miles to join our family.  Adding discomfort to the adventure was having to change clothes in a very small rural gas station bathroom along the way.  Glad to have made the trip and now feeling a little less stressful, I stand at one end of the reception hall, my back to the wall, observing family and friends.  Two of my sisters, Janice and Dianne, are now standing in the middle of the room.

As I take a sip of ice tea, I notice something on my new coat that does not look right. Putting my arm back down, I move my drink cup from one hand to the other. Twisting my arm and lifting it up, I immediately see what had caught my eye.  Shock does not adequately describe my reaction as I realize the price tag has been sewn into the fabric.  In such a rush, I forgot the one thing you should always do with a new garment: Remove all the sales tags and product information.   And, coat sales tags are not small!  They are purposely visible in the department store.  So, naturally, in this large room, anyone can spot the tag.

Dianne and Janice are now slowly moving toward me. It is a necessary rule that brothers avoid all possibilities of something potentially embarrassing sisters can gleefully repeat for the next 10 years at family reunions! My sisters love to get their hands on stories like this! And of course, there is always the embellishment factor utilized in ‘enhancing the entertainment.’  (Some old stories now include more fiction than truth)!  Immediately coming to my mind are all the stories where I am the central character. Do I really need a new chapter in my sisters’ book?!

After a brief consideration of speedily removing the tag, I decide to leave it in place. In a move that, in my younger years, would have been avoided like the plague, I motion for Dianne and Janice to join me. When they gather around me, I simply say, “I want to show you something.” Lifting my arm, the tag is revealed, a scenario resembling a flashing Interstate billboard sign at night!  I sure wish I had a video for revisiting the pure joy and laughter of this moment – a great moment for my sisters.  It is also momentous for me.

Despite the sad occasion, the three of us can hardly contain our laughter. I have to believe that Aunt Frieda is smiling as she looks down at us in this moment.  Finally, for the sake of sanity, I remove the tag before visiting with the rest of our family.

As we make our way back home, I cannot help but wonder if anyone else in our gathering saw the conspicuous tag. No one mentioned it, but quite possibly someone enjoyed a few laughs on their way home.  I can just hear it . . . ‘Did you see that crazy Rob Hackbarth with the sales tag on his coat?! Someone needs to get with that guy. He is losing it!’

Have you ever experienced a jovial moment during a farewell service for a family member? I have seen this many times, usually when someone relates a very funny story about the person being remembered.  In fact, I believe unequivocally that humor is an important part of a funeral.  I imagine the person we remember as expressing gratitude to those gathered. . .  “Thanks for your concern and love. I see your sadness. I know you care. But, please be sure to smile and laugh! I want you to be happy and joyful in my absence.  Enjoy life. Please live!” Does any of this sound correct to you?

If laughter is important at a funeral – and I believe it is – then how important is this in our daily living? Huge. Gigantic. Enormous. Extremely important. Life-changing. Essential. Do I need to say more?

Scientific studies have proven the value of laughter in life circumstances, like disease diagnoses and outcomes, stress reduction, and blood pressure control. Laughter has been confirmed as a great medicine for physical and psychological maladies. But, I believe it is more than that. It is part of the actual path we travel throughout our lifetime – not just an ancillary element. It is much deeper than that. It is at the core of much of our journey.  It is essential, like the oxygen we breathe.  In our busy lives, are we using laughter for some benefit? Are we making it part of our existence? Do we realize the magnitude of the laughter force?

On a scale of 1-to-10, where is your laughter meter registering? Are you laughing enough? You may have some challenges right now. At this very moment, I can think of family and friends who are burdened by illness and other difficulties. Some have experienced the loss of a loved one. They have every reason not to laugh.  Yet, I also believe and hope, in my heart, that they have reason to laugh.  Does this sound right?

When my wife suffered strokes in the hospital a few years ago, I will never forget the doctor who tried to comfort us. He was trying to alleviate our concern about lost brain cells. Not fully aware of his wording, but in a caring and comforting voice, he said: “Carol, you do not use all of your brain cells.” The point he was trying to make is that she did not need all of her brain cells.  Even at this particularly tough moment for Carol and me, I thought his statement was pretty funny, (thinking to myself . . . Yes . . . I know that fact about Carol. I have lived with her for almost 40 years and I can testify that she does not always use all her brain cells)!   As you might expect, I have enjoyed retelling this story many times!  And, true to Carol’s nature, she has developed her own response: “I am so smart I do not need all those extra cells.”

Sadness and humor are often different sides of the same coin.  Timing is important regarding the element of humor.  We need and want to console others in their sadness and pain. We also need to find places of laughter.  Are you actively seeking out opportunities for humor? Are you laughing enough in life?  Is it time to take out that old family story and retell it again?

Mondays can be . . . funny . . .

Life is . . .