Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Laughing Condolence: When Life Overflows, Share A Story

I've told readers before about my delight in accidently pouring a beverage to overflowing. Watching the liquid cascade over the brim is very therapeutic.

I am reminded that, at times, life overflows. 

I suppose I'd save a few paper towels by observing a fountain--especially one with a satisfying spill, like this:

At the funeral home, my heart is warmed to see a circle of chairs drawn together, and stories being shared. Laughter spills from the room and it is good. It might be the younger generation swapping stories about Grandpa's girlie poster in the garage. It might be the adult children remembering Dad's standard reaction every time they had to tell him something was broken.

This is a gathering of “The Walking Wounded”

When you are one of the walking wounded, coping with the death of a person you've loved and enjoyed, hurts. Telling (and listening to) stories is a balm. 

Many years ago, I had a wonderful friendship with a gentleman I met at church. We got in the habit of having breakfast after the service; I'd show him how to peel a grapefruit, and he'd promise perfect toast from homemade bread. Leo smoothly maneuvered his scooter over to the counter, ready for the slices to pop up. A fifty year age difference made no difference. 

The most remarkable thing about our friendship was its focus on the moment. We didn't exchange much personal history, preferring the vitality of the present:  days of fun--or funny incidents--were dubbed 'Holy Days.' We'd muse on a line from a hymn, or scripture, or a joke: 'Said the ink spot to the paper:  my dad is in the pen awaiting sentence.' From time to time we’d exchange letters by mail. It was an uncomplicated but precious camaradie.  

When Leo suddenly lapsed into a coma, his family graciously invited me to sit with him during what became his final hours. When he died, my first anguished thought was, “Who will love me like Leo?” At the vigil gathering, I was reminded that his death had left a gap for many.  That evening, laughter softened the hurt, as stories and memories were shared. 

A few days later, I wrote a condolence note to one of his adult sons, knowing it would be my expression to the entire family. The notecard I selected depicted a young child sitting amidst the lion and the lamb, an image of the peaceable kingdom described in the Bible’s Book of Isaiah. To me, Leo was the “peaceable kingdom,” and he made me feel like one of its princesses. Because my life had overflowed with something wonderful, I shared a funny breakfast story. It was a Laughing Condolence.

The Condolence Coach recognizes that, for some cultures, the room should be quiet.

I have served vigil gatherings where a large circle of chairs is utilized, but the silence is broken only by murmurs and possibly, low tones of 'angelic' music playing on the sound system. A quiet vigil provides a different type of support and contemplation of the deceased's life. This does not preclude a later condolence note containing a funny story. If you had a special relationship, your good judgement will guide you.

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