MORE THAN JUST TEARS

 

Posted March 6, 2020

I was 13, my grandfather had just died, and I was furious at everyone in the room. Less than an hour removed from the burial, the people there couldn’t stop laughing.

 

I seethed as they told stories—do you remember whens of my grandfather and them—each punctuated by a punchline and a laugh, before I finally stormed out of the room. A funeral was no place for jokes.

 

My grandfather was the first person I truly loved who had passed away, and his is the first Shiva—the Jewish period of mourning—that I remember. As life went on, we buried more people, I sat in more rooms, and I slowly came to learn that everyone gets tears when they die, but not everyone gets laughter.

 

At a funeral, laughter is how we respond to a story about the deceased that is so perfectly them, there’s no other way we could react. It’s how we respond to memories of their quirks that should have been annoying but that made us smile anyway. It’s how we respond as we recount their jokes, their one-liners, the times they had us in stitches. Therefore, laughter only comes for the people who let us know them inside-out, the people we loved so much that we came to adore their faults, and the people who lit up a room.

 

I didn’t know Dave as well as so many others did, but when he died last week, I instantly knew two things: the church would be overflowing with people there to bid him farewell and the room would be filled with laughter.

 

Over the subsequent few days, I read stories people shared online of their memories of the man. Many, like I was, were intimidated by him at first. He was an actor and director whose towering talent preceded him, and we all were terrified to share a stage with him, let alone act in one of his shows. But the story always ended the same: That fear disappearing the second people met him, when you were instantly engulfed by his warmth and welcoming smile. For so many of the storytellers, the first show they were cast in was one of his, an opportunity that in their eyes far exceeded their skill level. But Dave nurtured them, encouraged them, taught them craft and respect for the artform, then took off the reins and gave them the freedom to take risks and make the part their own.

 

At the funeral, the people who came to the stage told stories of a man who would open his heart to you, share everything inside and embrace you for what was in yours. But they also told the stories of a mischievous sonofabitch who loved messing with his friends and a guy who crouched down like a rocket ship ready to take off when he was about to fart. The woman at the medical center where he died told us about how even in the ICU, he found a way to build community amongst his fellow patients, how he thanked and connected with every employee, from the maintenance staff to the doctors. His son, only eighteen years old, spoke the kind of beautiful words that leave you certain he’s a writer—an artist just like his father—though you wish there was some other way you could have found out.

 

For most of the people there, they smiled at the many sides of a man they remembered so well. For me, I discovered someone I wish I had known better.

 

We drove up the street to the reception. There was a microphone and 80 actors who had just lost a friend. So it began.

 

Person after person stood up. “Hey everybody,” they declared. “Hey Andrea,” we would respond, or whatever their name might be. That was a Dave thing. He would say “Hey everybody” when he entered a room, and everyone would declare, “Hey Dave!” So we all did the same for everyone who spoke.

 

They would tell a story, and we would laugh, and we would sob, and then we’d raise a glass and give a toast… to Dave.

I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but if you form true bonds with others, then I know there is an afterlife. It comes each time your child teaches their kid the lesson you once taught them. And it comes each time people tell a story about you that everyone in the room already knows, yet can’t wait to hear again.

 

Dave lived a great life, and he touched the lives of many others. So when he died, he got a full house at his funeral, an afterlife with the people who loved him, and the blessing that we would remember him not just with tears, but with laughter.    

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