On Saturday it was the fourth anniversary of my mum’s death, someone I follow on Twitter lost a parent and I met up with a friend whose father is terminally ill. Not much scope for laughter there, is there? Except that, well, there is. I made a joke about my mum being to blame for The Rapture, the tweep got straight back on the joke horse and my friend did what any right-minded person would do and went to a club and laughed at fey indie boys. It all got me to thinking about how we use humour to cope with death and the spectre of it.
When my mum was dying, my family spent many hours in the relatives’ room outside ITU at the
. We saw other families come and go as their loved ones improved or ceased to be, and what struck me was how much everyone in that depressing little room laughed. Royal Free Hospital
The whole situation is so absolutely bizarre and terrifying, that a quick dose of mild hysteria is sometimes just what the doctor ordered and allows you to express the sheer depth of your fears without frightening the bejeezuz out of your loved ones or uttering some of the many unspeakable truths about a long drawn out death – namely that once they’re gone you will be wholly relieved not to have to traipse up the hospital any more, you’ll get to talk about something other than catheters and blood sugar levels and you might feel just the tiniest bit of relief that your days won’t be so inconvenienced and you can get back to having a life.
Sometimes life is so eye-wateringly bad that the only way to cope with the prospect of death is to laugh heartily in the face of it. My mum was a funny lady, not always intentionally and never more so than when stroke-ridden and confused. Sorry, but there it is. Watching her try and give herself her insulin injection but not being co-ordinated enough to locate her arse from her elbow (as it were) was terrible, but also terribly funny as she had a major fit of the giggles as she near stabbed herself in the head and we ended up wrestling the needle out of her hand. Of course, I cried buckets about it after; seeing this active, intelligent woman reduced to a bumbling, confused mess is not all that funny, but at the time the only way to deal with the situation was to laugh at it. It was also funny when she rose from near death, drugged up, traecheotomied up, with laboured breathing to vilify my dad for having the cheek to go home from the hospital for a break; “the GALL of that man!” she hissed and we all collapsed in fits. Poor dad, he didn’t deserve it but the sight of this tiny, dying woman screwing up her waning strength to slag off her husband was class!
I’m hardly the first to note the connection between grief and humour; clever people have done studies on it, but the amount of stuff I did find to laugh at in the lead up to and the aftermath of my mum’s death took my by surprise. Some of it made me feel guilty, some of it made me cry but all of it helped me come to terms with losing my mum. It still does.