My Dad died about two and a half months ago. He was 89 years old. Though I love my Dad dearly and miss him every single day, somehow, I’m a bit surprised – and even a little ashamed – that the loss of him hasn’t completely gutted me. I’ve worried that I’m not grieving him enough, that I’m not as sad as someone who has lost a parent should be. But I’ve come to realize that Dad prepared me for this moment for almost my entire life. He frequently joked about death and dying even when I was a child. It may seem morbid and inappropriate to some, but I think my father’s sometimes-dark humor actually prepared me for his death.
A strange, but helpful gift
It isn’t as though my Dad constantly discussed death. But when he did, he was much more straightforward about it than a lot of people. He’d make jokes about handling his remains after he was gone, like “Well, just stuff me in a cardboard box.” When I was really young, I was horrified at these comments. Just the concept of my father’s death was upsetting. As I got a little older, and realized his true intentions, I’d just giggle. When I got older and clever enough to make my own jokes, I’d respond with something like “Nah, that’s too hard – we’ll just toss you down in the trees.”
I know most families don’t make jokes like this, so let me reassure you. I made sure to tell my father that I loved him as often as I could. Also, I would never treat any human remains so callously, whether I was related to the person or not. But joking about it, together with someone that I’ve built trust? That’s fair game.
A part of life
I hate that it always seems to take a tragedy to wake us up to what’s really important. The loss of my Dad completely changed my world. But what I marvel at is how well I’ve been able to go on since then. I believe his candid, casual discussions of death were part of that.
It also helped that he instilled in me the idea that his passing would eventually be the natural order of things. Anytime we heard about a young person’s death, he would always say “No parent should ever have to bury their child.” I agree with him. It would be great if we never had to say goodbye to any of our loved ones, but my Dad made it clear to me that, as sad as death is, a parent’s death at the end of a long, full life is the ideal. An ideal he was lucky enough to fulfill.
We have to laugh or we’ll cry
I cried so much the day my father died. Even so, his jokes were still there. The same day of his death I suddenly recalled some silly song he sang about decomposing bodies. “Oh the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms crawl over your mouth and your snout!” I know that’s pretty gross, but I laughed out loud when it came to mind.
I have a much more depraved sense of humor than my father ever did (or, at least, more than he would admit to me), but the joke connected me to him. It reminded me that yes, we can laugh at death. If you’re a Christian, or person who believes in an afterlife (through your religious beliefs or not), we can, quite literally, laugh at death. Even if you’re an atheist, death is a release and the cessation of pain here on earth. It has no true power over us. It holds no power over my Dad or over me.
I will never stop missing or loving my father. I’m so lucky to have had him guide me through the beginning of my life. I will remember him as hard-working, gentle, talented, and loving. But one aspect that will always shine through is how funny he was. I respect that he could joke about tough things in life. Many people aren’t that bold. They worry that joking about difficult things like death somehow invites it in, forgetting that it will eventually come for all of us. My father’s humor prepared me for his death and I will be forever grateful to him for it.