The night of my father’s unexpected death, we gathered at my parents’ house in League City. I don’t know who suggested that we watch a movie together to take our minds off of our loss, but before I knew it, I was stretched out on the floor in the family room watching Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon. It didn’t take long for us to burst into uncontrollable laughter at scene after scene.
And in that raucous, rolling mirth and uncontrollable giggles nestled the first knowledge that we would recover from our unexpected loss. Grief, of course, shrouded us for months and months; yet, that first evening of laughter meant the world would go on. Our lives would change forever, but we’d find myriad reasons to smile and laugh again.
Our personal grief entangled the next day with the September 11th terrorist attacks. The television, on in the background as we dressed to go to the funeral home, suddenly caught my sister’s attention.
“Did that plane just hit a building?” she asked.
The surreal elements of our personal lives halted as we stood to watch the initial reports, before the second plane hit. We left the house and hurried to the appointment to make arrangements for Dad’s funeral, knowing immediately that the attack would affect our lives immediately.
At the funeral home, the television ran in another room. The director’s phone calls to Fort Sam Houston Cemetery went unanswered. Mom, able to collect herself as she listened to the news, commented that all of Dad’s friends at the sheriff’s department would go on alert. She made an immediate decision not to have a viewing. We picked out an urn. The director finally reached the National Cemetery at Ft. Sam only to be told that we couldn’t schedule any plans until after the crisis had passed. Mom gave instructions for Dad’s cremation, and we all decided that David, Paul and I would drive back to San Antonio with his ashes. We’d schedule a service later.
I’ve always admired my mother’s strength, but never more than that day. When she called the Department of Defense to inform them of Dad’s death, the young officer handling her call burst into tears. I sat on the floor, holding the checklist of numbers to be called, and listened as my mother consoled this young man. He had friends in the Pentagon.
I marveled that my mother, so wrapped in her own loss, could take a moment to consider the shock and loss felt by a stranger.
Over the years, I've learned the power of laughter. Maybe if people took a moment each day to giggle or grin, or to belly laugh until they cried, our world would hold a touch more optimism.
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman