Never Underestimate the Healing Power of Laughter

Excerpt 12 of the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Scroll down to read previously posted chapters. If you found this blog via Facebook, please consider commenting on Facebook or Liking it on Facebook so it will gain more circulation. I encourage everyone to write or talk about their loved ones. I love all your comments and would love to hear about your loved ones, how you celebrated them. Let’s focus on how they lived and touched our lives. XO M

***

Our family was so touched by the immediate and overwhelming kindness and the love of so many people that followed the loss of our beloved warrior. We heard from hundreds of people we knew and many we didn’t. We received cards, calls, flowers, emails, and unexpectedly-money.

Stuart Campbell, An older friend, and former college professor of my parents, sent by far my favorite note. My mom opened the card and found a hundred dollar bill inside, signed, “Who loves you? Stu Do.” I looked at my mom and giggled at this unexpected gesture, his words just knocked it out of the park. “People still send cash in the mail?” My mom smiled, shrugged with raised eyebrows indicating she had no idea about any of it, of what to expect. She added the card to the top of an enormous pile of cards she had already received in the three days since Dave left the building.

The kindness of humanity buoyed us but seriously, the sweet little note along with a series of other funny memories, learning new funny stories and hilarious moments that week saved me, us.

We decided on a day for Dave’s party, the next Saturday, July 16, 2011. We had roughly six days to get everything together. It was plenty of time, people die all the time and have funerals within a few days of their death. We were going to be fine. I was at my mom’s house almost every day that week helping plan and get ready for our party along with the many people who were showing up.

As I wrote Dave’s obituary tribute, he gained his Viking Warrior designation. I thought of a funeral I had attended with Dave, one of his coaches, Joe Page, had died. The service was at the Catholic Church across the street from our house. I had gone to school with Joe’s children and wanted to give my respects and be with my brother, who loved this coach. I don’t ever recall seeing Joe attend church, but then again, I didn’t attend either, but his wife was very involved with church services, and I saw her coming and going all the time.

Joe was such a character, he was a wiry 6’6″ guy, loud-spirited, results-producing track and field coach, who always had a cigar hanging from his mouth. He reminded me of a retired military man with his crew cut, not sure if he was but seemed like it to me. As suspected, Joe’s son Paul confirmed Joe served our country in the army. He drove an old classic MG B as long as I knew him which was before elementary school. I remember seeing him parked outside my parents’ house leaning up against his car, arms crossed, chatting with Dave every now and then over the years. He still had that cigar hanging out of his mouth. Dave participated in the only event for burly guys on a track team, the shot put. He was built for strength, not speed.

Before we headed over to the funeral Dave told me of his most memorable track and field event with Joe. During a track meet, the 800-meter event, the other team had no runner, which meant anyone could run for Dave’s team and win just by finishing. As a joke, Joe put Dave in to run against no one.

As Dave made his one and only lap around the track that season, maybe ever, Joe was running next to him on the infield grass shouting, “RUNNNNNNN LINANE RUNNNNN!” laughing hysterically the entire time. Dave was trying his hardest to just run the distance ignoring his coach in his face trying his hardest to make Dave laugh. Joe had a very thin gruff exterior with a heart of genuine love for all his athletes. I laughed so hard picturing Dave running with his Clydesdale war horse like shot put body and wiry Joe with his cigar in-hand, yelling at him. He laughed as he told the story and joined my laughter as he watched me visualize all of it.

We attended the nighttime funeral, a typical Catholic affair, of standing, sitting, more standing, kneeling, shaking hands, and communion. There were many more speakers than a typical funeral. More stories were shared like Dave’s. I wish Dave had thought to speak, his story would have been a welcome addition to the summary and celebration of Joe Page’s life. People were not crying, they were laughing. We were laughing. When it was over, a group of musicians with horns started playing a brassy, raucous rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and brought down the house as everyone began singing, cheering and clapping like we were in a decades past juke joint somewhere in the south.

We were near the front of the church and followed the musicians and family down the main aisle of the church, facing all the people joyfully clapping and singing as we made our way out. Dave was bobbing his head, singing the parts he knew, he had to shout for me to hear him, “THIS IS THE KIND OF FUNERAL I WANT!” I yelled back above the music, above everything, in clarification, “YOU WANT A ‘FIRST LINE’ JAZZ BAND AND PEOPLE PARADING BEHIND YOUR CASKET IN THE STREET?” “YA! THAT!!” “DULY NOTED.” I mean, it’s important to tell people what we want. Dave and I laughed and continued heading out in the procession, singing and clapping along in this beautiful, energetic tribute fitting the man we were there to celebrate.

Thoughts of that night were in the front of my head as the concept grew from Viking Warrior into the way, we were going to celebrate Dave…with a proper Viking Funeral, booze, food, fire, and everything. Not a First Line jazz band in the street, that had been done already.

My written tribute was a thinly veiled open invitation to our Viking Funeral. I emailed it off to our local papers. All three papers held fast to their new policy that we had to purchase an obituary before they would run a ‘general interest’ story-what they called my tribute.

Fine, we will run a paid obituary. You’ve already read my one sentence “party at Dave’s house” $600 notice in an earlier chapter. I followed up after running the paid spot and asked when the tribute would run. I reminded them how much ink my dad got when he died, and the reporter on the other end said, “Yes, I remember writing that piece.” I had to hold my tongue since I had written the tribute that she cut, pasted and peppered with, “Linane said,” throughout the article to sound like she interviewed me. They didn’t run the tribute…for the time being.

In our on-going effort of trying to think of everyone who needed to be notified by phone or email, I also emailed the tribute to the President of Cal State University San Bernardino where Dave had attended and made many friends among students, staff, faculty, and administration. I said I was an introvert, I am not, shy, that is different.

Hello Mr. Karnig,

I used to be your neighbor–the house with ivy down on the corner. I used to tease you when you put your trash out yourself about having some sort of university secret service detail to do that for you. I thought it was funny. My son still lives there with his father (every other week)–the long-haired boy whom you may have seen riding a bike or walking a dog with his dad.

I am not sure if you remember your very first graduation ceremony at CSU. My electric wheelchair-bound brother (Thomas) David Linane had a little boy on his lap to accept his diploma for him. The now long-haired teenager down the street from you is that same boy. I am sure you remember that graduation.

My brother loved his time at CSU. Your staff encouraged him to continue when it took him so much longer than most to finish since he could only attend a little more than part-time for reasons beyond his control-my dad had to physically put him in his wheelchair and could only do so a few days a week without overdoing it physically. Dave learned well in the classroom but gained greater understanding from his counselors and in turn, loved helping others achieve their educational dreams when he became a counselor to students with disabilities at San Bernardino Valley College.

We are having a hard time getting the local papers to publish anything about him before his Viking Funeral at our parents’ home on Saturday. I would really appreciate your help getting this routed through your people via email on your campus as these are some of the most important people in his life.

Our family is doing well with this unexpected departure–we are having to console others so much more than ourselves. We feel lucky to have been able to have spent so much time with him and called him our own.

Thank you for your help,

Mardi Linane

He responded right away with his condolences and clear memory of Dave, who had been featured in their alumni publication a few times. He remembered me teasing him about the theoretical University Secret Service trash detail and he knew my son.

He then sent me a courtesy copy of an email he sent to his Communications Department that they feature Dave on their homepage with information about when the funeral was taking place. I had a similar response from San Bernardino Valley College where Dave had worked. They put the tribute on their home page as well. We felt that we reached all the people who we didn’t know who needed to know. Newsprint was officially dead to me (accidental pun but so applicable).

As the word percolated through the collective of our people, Dave’s friends from near and far, some long gone away began showing up at my mom’s house in the hours and days right after Dave left. They needed to return to our house. There was such a comfort to be found in our home. Even with Dave gone, the people who stopped by were happy to see the other random people who were there looking for the same something, consolation. Our family knew up close and personal how hard Dave’s life really was and how bravely he moved through all of it. We felt joy for him, relief for him and we had to work to help others see and hopefully gain similar relief from our perspective. In retrospect, I am pretty sure we were also still in shock. It lasts way longer than you think.

Some of Dave’s closest friends, Brian, Dave, Jim, Steve and their wives Sharon, Carol, Natalie and Peggy showed up asking how they might help get the house or yard or whatever ready for the party. My sister Anne and her husband Randy arrived from the East coast. Everyone helped in some way. They trimmed trees and bushes. They raked leaves. They climbed our huge Chinese elm trees and hung lights way up high. They swept and watered and in between, with the music turned up high, they laughed. They shopped and took lunch breaks, and we had sandwiches from someplace brought in. We all sat around the table eating, laughing in between a few long quiet moments of chewing lost in thoughts of the person no longer at the table with us. And then we laughed more and hugged at the end of the day. I was so happy for my mom to have so many of her favorite people around her, helping her move through these horribly difficult days with so much love, laughter, and genuine human kindness.

One of these days prior to our celebration, Brian suggested we look through Dave’s cell phone contacts to make sure everyone had been notified. Brian, his wife Sharon, my mom, and I went into Dave’s bedroom where his cell phone was in a drawer. Brian was standing near the dresser, reading each persons’ name as he scrolled through. Sharon sat on Dave’s bed, I sat across from her on the couch, and my mom sat on a stool in between Sharon and me. As Brian stated each name in the list of contacts, either my mom or I confirmed with a “yep” or “ya” that we had spoken to that person.

We made it through a large number of people, and surprisingly, everyone had been reached. He made it to the letter S. He made a physically notable double-take. He paused, I watched him look closely at the number with a furrowed brow, and his head tilted to one side before bursting out laughing, “Who’s Shithead?” We were launched into laughter with him at the unexpected question.

My mom is not really one to curse much and some may even perceive her as somewhat formal…to see her falling over laughing was such a joy in itself separate from the context of the pretty hilarious riddle we were trying to solve. Brian, Sharon and I were laughing at her reaction.

We unwound from the laughter this question unleashed, while trying to recover our breath we all looked back at Brian questioning, waiting for what, I don’t know. Brian had a look on his face, raised eyebrows that conveyed the question Any idea? Any? He repeated slightly more slowly this time, “Shiiiiitheeeead?” My mom and I looked at each other for a long moment as we shrugged our shoulders, paired with an ‘I dunno’ blank face, raised eyebrows, and more ‘snickertering.’ I made that word up, it’s when a laugh comes out your nose in a half snort. We looked back at Brian for more clues. None came. We looked at Sharon, shrugged again, and got lost in more out of control laughter in response to his slow pronunciation of “Shiiiiitheeeead.”

We half-straightened ourselves up once again and looked at Brian for more information. I love what can be conveyed between humans without words with micro-gestures, eyebrows, nods, shrugs. This is my favorite nonverbal moment of all time. Brian continued this time by reading the number. 619-xxx-xxxx. L-O-N-G Pregnant pause as the four of us searched each other’s faces yet again, as we looked around the room as if the answer was going to be somewhere up where the wall met the ceiling in the corner. Nope. Nothing. More hysterical laughter. We didn’t really recover, we were still laughing as we continued to scour our brains trying to figure out this name or this number. Nothing. It was not familiar to us. We simply could not figure it out or stop laughing

Not only was Dave a very kind and patient man he didn’t curse all that often, I mean, he did from time to time, but for him to have this particular contact, was definitely a thing. A very funny thing. There had to be a good back story to this, and I was dying to know what that story was, but the guy who knew was…dead.

Being paralyzed, Dave could not program his or any other phone. When you are paralyzed, you need help with EVERY, everything. His personal assistant for everything from putting Dave in his wheelchair, driving him to work, to feeding him during the day would also have had to have programmed his phone. Specifically. On purpose. His assistant was not a super technically savvy guy and definitely not one to use colorful language so as the humor of this contact “Shithead” continued to sink further into this moment of question, we just laughed harder and harder.

We theorized what the conversation sounded like when Dave asked his assistant to program this contact. We envisioned Dave patiently talking him through the setup process, “First push *2,” we laughed hysterically at every description of what that process must have looked like, “select the ‘add new contact icon, hit enter, the name is Shithead. YES, SHITHEAD, S-H-I-T-H-E-A-D, YES ENTER IT! hit the ‘Done’ button.” After several more minutes, the laughter calmed down for the most part.

Long pause as Brian’s eyes were transfixed to the screen with the mystery contact. He repeated the number one more time, 619-xxx-xxxx. Another quiet moment filled the room as we all concentrated really hard this time. The silence was broken when my mom triumphantly recognized the number and joyfully jumped up and shouted “Oh that’s Scott’s number!” like she was solving a million dollar puzzle on a game show. Or, “WHAT is Scott’s number?” for the Jeopardy fans in the crowd. The sheer victorious joy in her voice was so hilarious, and we lost control laughing at HER again. Just as that wave of laughter began to slow down, it hit us all at once, the realization that Dave had listed his brother Scott as SHITHEAD in his contacts and we completely lost it with laughter, AGAIN.

Brian was crying, laughing, his arm moving with his laughter as he held the phone for us to see the SHITHEAD contact, ALL CAPS as proof he wasn’t making this up. I managed to get out a confirmation, ‘Yep, he’s been contacted.’ We all cried with the last bit of information with roaring laughter, again.

There is nothing more healing than a really, REALLY good, out of control laugh that goes on for several encores until your sides and face hurt. If I had peed a little, it would have been worth it, it was so fucking funny. The sights and sounds of a collective laugh like that can stay with you forever. We needed that laugh. It was unexpected and so perfect, so poetic on so many levels. Only two people likely knew what that was about. Maybe it was a term of endearment. Any one of us could be a shithead in this life, I could have made the shit(head) list myself, on occasion. I will theorize no further, and leave it at that. However, this was the very best moment of our collective grief recovery.

That same day I responded to an email I received from a former neighbor, Mary Ann to ask if it was ok for me to read her email at the memorial. This was her response.

Hi Mardi,

Of course, you can read my story at the Memorial!

I love the idea of the Viking Memorial. It is so fitting for David.

I understand how hard it is to have the service the way that you want. When dad passed away, I got into an argument over the songs for his service. Dad was a huge, Dodger fan. So, I wanted the organist to play “Take me out to the Ball Game.” However, she said, “I’m sorry we cannot play that in this church.” So, I said, “too bad… dad’s dead… play it anyway.” She said, “No.” again in her Spanish accent. I was really mad at this stupid woman. Bob, my brother told me to “Shut up and to let her pick out the songs.” I told him, “Her songs kind of suck!” He whispered again, “SHUT UP!!” So, I had to agree on…. Amazing Grace. Trust me, I did not feel too amazing at the moment. I think I kind of glared at the organist over dad’s casket.

And to make matters worse, mom, kept running all over the church that morning, asking…”Who’s in the box? …Who’s in the box?” (the casket).

However, I would not change one thing that day. It took our minds off of losing Dad. I’m sure Dad got a big kick out of his special day.

It’s okay to cry. If we did not love the person that we have just lost, then the tears would not appear.

Songs that I hear always bring on the tears. (Except Amazing Grace!!)

David, who will be there in spirit, will love every minute of it.

I’m glad that Barbara is there to help. The list of things that need to be done before a service is a little overwhelming. Especially when all we want to do is remember and cry.

I hope to see you at the service. I have walked past your home over a thousand times, yet I have never been in it.

Hugs and Prayers,

Mary Ann

When writing this book, I contacted Mary Ann again to ask if I could share the above private message with the world.

Hi Mary Ann,

It’s been a bit since we have chatted. You may know that I have written Dave’s biography, Viking Funeral. I hope you’ve seen the posts online about it. The book is about the night of our Viking Funeral and about each person who spoke, how they were connected to Dave. I am sharing all the messages sent to us to read at the memorial and wanted to ask if I may share your private email pep talk to me?

Her response:

Of course, you may. Thank you for asking. To be honest, when I wrote that first email, I kept hoping that you would not think I was on the nutty side. Wasn’t sure how to mend a broken heart… but just tell you a little about how David saved me and helped my parents. Dad really did like him and kind of leaned on him for help.

Someday, I will have to tell you the story of when Dad and I took mom to Jane Brzezinski’s (Barbara’s mom. Mary Ann’s family lived directly across the street from Barbara’s family) funeral and how she kept asking repeatedly, “Is Jane going to be there?”

I immediately had to call Mary Ann to hear the story because someday was now, I could not resist. Her mom, Mildred, had Alzheimer’s or dementia which may be obvious from her previous comments about her mom not knowing her husband was the dead person inside the casket (box) above.

Mary Ann laughed all through explaining to me in a nutshell what it is like helping someone with this sort of disability move through the ordinary days of life, “All the way to the funeral mom kept asking, ‘Is Jane going to be there?’ Mary Ann initially looked to her dad for confirmation that he had explained where they were going to her mom, that Jane had died, that they were going to Jane’s funeral. Her dad affirmed that he had explained all this to his wife several times. They took turns reassuring her, ‘Jane will definitely be there.’

Once they got to the chapel, Mildred continued asking ‘Where is Jane?’ ‘She’ll be here.’ or ‘I don’t see Jane?’ ‘She’s here Mom.’ ‘Are you sure Jane is going to be here?’ The last time she asked if they were ‘SURE Jane is here?’ both Mary Ann and her dad responded at the same time ‘She’s in the box!’ at this, Mildred remained quiet until they got up to the altar for the viewing. Mildred took one look at Jane in her casket and said ‘Oh, That’s not Jane.’” Mary Ann and I laughed. I loved hearing this story and then had to ask if I could include THIS exchange in the book as well. Mary Ann and her dad handled their challenges with Mildred with a great sense of humor.

Our family learned a long time ago that you have to have a sense of humor to get through this life. These lovely people (you all know who you are) and these hilarious moments meant everything to me, us.

© Mardi Linane Copyright 2019

Advertisements