Death & All Related Absurdities

Photo: Death and Life, Klimt

Photo: Death and Life, Klimt

Seeing the embalmed body of my grandmother was a scary thing when Catholicism was already scary enough. In the rigidity of both aspects I was too young to think that she was in any other space than either the eternal fires of hell or among the idols of St. Patrick’s.

It was the first time I saw death first-hand. I can’t say that it had any profound impact on me at eight years old – I didn’t have the aptitude with which to contextualize my own mortality. Rather, it scared the shit out of me trying to understand where my grandmother went, wondering to whom she would now be speaking, in Spanish of course, not knowing if I would ever hear her laugh again.

Though my internalized questions garnered neither empirical answers nor meaning, something fantastic and Menippean did happen. My brother, sitting next to me in the cohort of my mourning relatives, was laughing.

I first looked at his face, his eyes had that “I can’t control it and I don’t know what the fuck to do” look.

I wanted him to see my “Oh shit, Mom and Dad are going to kill you” look but he couldn’t.

My impulse was to fight the wonderfully juxtaposed situation that presented itself. I couldn’t see my parents huddled among the familial network of the rational who only saw the gravity of Grandma’s present state.

“Shhh!” I whispered into my brother’s ear. This only made him laugh harder.

I tried locking in on his eyes but as the organ belched and the mourners followed, my possessed brother, in mimicry of the others, sang grossly out of tune.

The same impulse took me over. I could no longer look him in the face at the risk that we would further upset our already volatile Catholic Latino relatives. Though our singing was drowned out by the adults, we didn’t stop.

When I couldn’t catch my breath, I bowed my head as deeply as I could boring my ears deeper into my chest. An unfamiliar old man seated in front of me turned and gave me a cold stare, then turned back around. By appearance we were profane in the eyes of the somber.

We knew that the situation was out of our control. Feeding off of each other, we tried expelling as much laughter as silently as we could before the singing ended and found ourselves in another fit with each chorus.

I remember hitting his arm once. He punched me in the leg too.

And as quickly as it came, the laughter stopped, as did the music. We rejoined the grave world. As I looked at my resting grandmother and the large crucifix centered on the wall above her, I felt ashamed.

But somehow as I think about it so many years later, at least in the way I’d like to think, Grandma’s wake was more of an awakening. Grandma made us laugh that day. She needed somebody to laugh at death and all related absurdities. It was great to hear her laugh again.

One Comment to “Death & All Related Absurdities”

  1. Everything you write, I love. We love because we identify. Who, has not, at some grave event laughed uncontrollably instead of cried? To me, it is just our soul spirit releasing energy however inappropriately it may seem at the time. Don’t we laugh all the time at comedy making light of human error, conflict and tragedy? So, I love, how you have captured a most intense moment and described it’s release. (I have written a story of my first experience at my grandmother’s funeral when I was ten…It’s called Go-Go Boots, and mine describes my uncontrollable crying…:-) )

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