Saturday, August 05, 2017

Laughter Through Tears

Dad's temporary grave marker
Frostburg Memorial Cemetery
Perhaps it's the self-preservation part of the grieving process that allows you to focus on the funny stuff when someone dies.

Despite how inappropriate it feels to laugh during a funeral, amusing things do happen during the course of one's illness and suffering  - and these are the things you (read: I) think about and recall, usually at inopportune moments, that help sustain your sanity and give credence to the expression "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

Dad was diagnosed with dementia in May 2013, after a series of peculiar incidents and odd behaviors.  Occasionally, Dad would say something that didn't seem to make complete sense, or he'd forget something he was supposed to do.  It all seemed to be part of the natural aging process.  Dad was just over 70 and it seemed normal for him to have bouts of forgetfulness.  I mean, I can't remember what I had for dinner last night.

Thankfully, Dad maintained a great sense of humor especially through the early days of his illness.  Many times he and Mom would share a laugh about something he said or did.  For example:
One morning, Dad came downstairs from getting dressed wearing three shirts, a pair of shorts, and ALL of his belts.  He announced to Mom that he could never find his belts so he was just going to start wearing ALL of them every day.
Another time, Mom told him to put on deodorant and shave before they left the house. She caught Dad rubbing deodorant all over his face, clearly mixing his signals. When she drew attention to what he was doing, they both laughed.

And there was the time Mom could hear Dad rifling through her jewelry box.  She yelled to him to get out of it, and he responded that he wasn't doing anything.  She asked, "Are you in my jewelry box?".  He yelled back, "No!".  And then with perfect comedic precision, all of Mom's pearls from her mother's pearl necklace came bouncing down the wooden staircase that leads to their bedroom.  At first, it was just a peck or two, and then it was as if someone simply dumped them down the stairs.  Admittedly - horrifying to Mom at the time (and probably still to this day), but I have to hand it to Dad on his timing. 
For several months, Dad went through a phase of tidying up or, perhaps in his mind, helping out.  He would constantly wipe the kitchen counters off and place items in cabinets or storage.  And he'd place them in locations one would never think to look for them.  Mom lost track of all kinds of things.  And most of the time, Mom was actually still using the items.  I was witness to one episode where both of them were in the kitchen and Mom was trying to bake something.  She'd pull pans and supplies out of the cabinets and place them on the counter, only for Dad to come behind her, notice the item(s) and put them away again.  Then Mom would reach for what she had taken out, only to wonder where it went, look for it, and eventually think she was losing her own mind.  I remember quietly saying to myself, "Just enjoy this!" because it was like having Lucy and Ethel in my parents' kitchen.

Midway through Dad's illness, Mom needed to dress him while he was still living at home.  He'd sit in a chair while she knelt down to put on his shoes.  And while she was attempting to do this, Dad would reach out and pat and rub her head.  With bad knees herself, Mom struggled to stay on balance while trying to tie Dad's shoes and there he would be, just sitting in his chair, not helping in any way, messing her hair and sometimes knocking her glasses off.  It would infuriate her.  And he'd just giggle at her. Okay - perhaps this is one of those "you had to be there" moments, but the visual of this, and the memory it invokes, still makes me chuckle to this day.
It's these memories, and I know my Mom and siblings have many more, that have helped me look back and smile a little during a period where there was little to smile about.  In her exasperation, at times, Mom would yell at Dad - a fact she regretted early on and stopped herself from doing.  But Dad's response to her anger and frustration was to simply look at her and laugh, which caused her to laugh.... sometimes.  Because you have to.  You have to laugh.

Otherwise, all you'd do is cry.