Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Lighter Side of...Life

“They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days.”

- Garrison Kielor.

The Smiling Angel - Notre-Dame de l'Epine basilica, Reims, France
Photo by Kent St. John 

Do you know how hard it is to find a depiction of a happy angel? I must have searched a thousand images before I found one. Why do we insist on portraying them as such solemn, "un-fun" beings? I think they enjoy a good laugh as much as the next, angel. Don't you?

The adorable angel depicted above is happy as a clam. Of course, I would be, too, if I resided in the town of Reims, France, for all eternity.  Reims is known as the city where most of the Kings of France were crowned, but that's not likely to make the angels smile.  But Reims is also known as the home to most of the best champagne houses in all the world, Veuve Clicquot and Chateau Les Crayeres among them.  That is happy-making news to, any angel.

Angels have a sense of humor, too, right? I think they must. Heaven only knows what they've seen going on between us ridiculous humans on occasion. I'm sure they've laughed at us behind our backs more times than I can count. I know they must have guffawed as they observed Eleanor Floyd's offspring as they so earnestly tried to help her navigate her way to the next realm.

I'm sure they were quite amused when...

1) Elly's two daughters would try valiantly but hopelessly to change her gown and adjust her position, struggling to use the techniqes they'd been shown by the staff of Beautiful Professionals. Just as we were about to give up in frustration, two Beautiful Professionals would enter as if by magic and give us both a tolerant, sweet, sympathetic smile. "Why don't you ladies go for a cup of coffee and let us handle this?" they would say.

When we'd return to the room just minutes later, there our mother would be, pretty as a picture, resting peacefully, clean, neat, and cozy. The nurses, techs, and hospice workers made it look so easy. It kind of made us crazy, but I can still hear the angels chuckling at the two amateurs.

2) My Twin, after a sleepless and harrowing night, tried to help Elly onto a bedpan, and somehow ended up splayed across the bed under her with Elly meekly crying out, "help! help!". At that moment, again as if by magic, Beautiful Professional appeared at the door and exclaimed, "Well, well, what do we have here?" Oh, the angels loved that one.

3) A little while after this little episode, Sis-In-Law walked into the room, where, by this time, My Twin was trying to recover some modicum of self-respect. Unfortunately for My Twin, Elly opened her eyes, and upon recognizing Sis-In-Law, proclaimed, "Thank God you're here!"  My Twin burst into tears and forgot about any remaining self respect, and Sis-In-Law was left to decide whom to hug first. I think the angels smiled and appreciated Mom's prayer of thanksgiving.

4) Elly recounted to a room full of visitors (during that treasured "Golden Hour" that the hospice workers had told us about) great memories of the past, including one of the fire that had burned down the house next door to ours in our old neighborhood of Ruskin Heights one night. The family that lived there was um...well...different. (Think Drunken Beverly Hillbillies without the money or the mansion)They were not our favorite people, but my father, a can-do U.S.Marine and good Samaritan to the core, ran over to the burning house to see if anyone needed help. He found the lord of the manor alone in the house, drunk as a skunk and naked as a jaybird. Dad pulled the man out onto the front lawn to safety, just before the Fire Department arrived, with my loving mother calling out in into the night, "Don't you dare bring him over here!"

Upon relating the story again, she added, "Yeah, I kind of regretted saying that a few times over the years." Everyone howled, and I'm sure the angels did, too. 

5) Younger Brother would deliver a cooler each afternoon filled with Kahlua (or was it Bailey's?) minis as a nightcap to "the night shift," (those of us who were staying all night at Elly's bedside). The problem was that alcohol was prohibited by the Mormon-run institution, but seeing as how we weren't Mormon, we simply considered it an oversight on their part.

Not wanting Elly to be evicted because of her children, though, we thought it wise to pour our nightcaps into mugs each evening, disguising them as the ubiquitous hospital coffee. Each morning the empties were then smuggled out in a backpack carried by our niece, whom we nicknamed "Agent Theunemann." The angels probably thought that was hilarious, and most likely knew that we weren't fooling the staff of Beautiful Professionals at all.

6) I came into the room one day, gave Elly a kiss, stroked her face, and said brightly, "Hi Mom, it's Jo. I'm here. I love you."

She opened her eyes, smiled, and replied slowly and clearly, "Well, I always was partial to Dave [my husband]."  That one brought down the house. It brought me down, too.

These are just a few of the good-natured chuckles Eleanor's brood provided the angels. We seemed to laugh even a little more than we cried as we all progressed through the experience. What a miracle it was to experience it together.

A well developed sense of humor is important to the human species. Why is that? Do other species have it? I suppose that it somehow helps us to overcome many difficult situations. All I know it that it's a prerequisite for membership into my family. It's like a divine gift from the angels, and I am so grateful for it.

Today, I hope you see the lighter side of life.

Here is Garrison Keillor, Emmylou Harris, and Kate McKenzie singing "The Sweetest Gift." Enjoy.

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