A Dying Man Walks into a Bar . . .
When I look back on my daddy’s passing from this earth, I see the deeply funny moments – like when my sister suggested we offer Daddy the comfort of his beloved Episcopal liturgy. It was a brilliant idea: we would recite the words he’d heard every Sunday of his life since approximately 1971. How soothing to hear the well-known phrases, how reassuring!
Problem was, in a family that’s been Episcopalian since God created the heavens and the earth, we could only find Mother’s prayer book from 1954. The service was unintelligible. Not your dated but well-known 1928 prayer book Rite 1. The words made no sense to me; I had no idea what some of them even meant. “Read the 23rd Psalm,” the sitter suggested, so I flipped to the psalter at the back of the prayer book. Again, not a jot of familiarity.
As I scanned the convoluted, almost foreign sentences wondering how I, the woman who wrote a book on prayer, found myself at this spot, music played. “Oh, Bayard would love this,” Mother had said, and set the tunes turning. As the music plinked, I gave a half-hearted stab at reciting some of the prayers aloud, before muttering, “How could Daddy recognize any of this crap?” In my mind’s eye I saw how others would do this: the adult children who ushered their parents into the next life, bathing them in love, candle light, familiar scents, and softly playing Mozart. But there we were, my daddy at death’s door, and I was reading incomprehensible liturgical gibberish to the strains of 1950s be-bop.
This, I thought as I flipped through the pages for something, anything familiar, is my family.
When I re-tell this story, everyone in my family laughs.
This is my family too. The ones who guffawed while the rest of the movie theatre sat silent through the suicide scene from “Crimes of the Heart.” The story was written by a Mississippian, Beth Henley. My mother attributed our “getting it” to the Mississippi heritage we share with the playwright. Maybe. Or maybe my family simply has a strange sense of humor. We are the ones who laugh at death.
Otherwise, all I’d have to look back on when I remember my daddy passing from this earth would be sorrow, grief, and tears.
If you find that offensive, if you believe death is only appropriately treated with dignity, quiet, and respect, you’d best be signing off. I’m about to tell the story of how my sister thought I’d conveyed to her the news of Daddy’s passing via text.
Remember: you cain’t do nothing with love . . .