You know the old saying you can either choose to laugh or cry about it?
Well, sometimes it is indeed BOTH that we need. Tears and laughter each offer their own form of medicine and let us express the emotions asking to move through us. Which is why I wanted to take some time to explore the varied emotional landscapes that surround the topic of death.
When we think of death, it’s often seen/felt as heavy and dark – it’s grief, sorrow, anger, and regret, and then waaaaaay over on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum we have joy, laughter, and creativity.
But that emotional distance is just an illusion because they so often dance together.
And giving ourselves permission to laugh even as we grieve is somehow…freeing.
Let me prove it to you…
I’d never met my friend’s mom but I felt as if I knew her thanks to our close friendship. When the day came to head to Ottawa to attend her mom’s funeral, I remember walking in and seeing her standing next to the open casket. I walked up to her to hug her.
She started by saying, “Ohh Tammy, my mom would be horrified to know she’s meeting you this way. She’d get up but…” and with that humorous sentiment, we BURST into laughter. And received obvious side-eye mixed with a bit of ‘WTF are they laughing about?!’ from others attending the funeral.
We didn’t care, this is our style of humour and it added a jolt of levity that we needed on such a sad day. It’s something we still laugh about today which is why I wanted to share this story. To show how seemingly polar emotions can co-exist (because trust me, I was a weepy mess about 30min later). AND because laughter can indeed be just the medicine you need.
There are so many paths to healing and processing loss and it doesn’t have to be heavy every step of the way. It’s okay if it cracks you up sometimes or inspires your creativity. And in case you’re looking for some levity or inspiration I’ve got a list below to get you started.
Something to read
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jeanette McCurdy
I haven’t read this yet but I love how the title grabs your attention and hints at the complexity of our feelings about death. Some of the reviews say…
“Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt and supremely captivating recounted with the passion of a true survivor…”
“Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad my Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.”
“It’s a moment of hilarity and heartbreak…This complexity is what makes I’m Glad My Mom Died feel real.”
(She also has a great interview on the ‘We Can Do Hard Things’ podcast – here’s the link.)
Something to watch
Taylor Tomlinson’s Look At You (on Netflix)
If you love stand-up comedy then you should check this out. Here’s what an article from the Washington Post says about the Netflix special…
“In Look At You as Tomlinson approaches the stretch of jokes about her [dead] mom she brings her stool to the lip of the stage and sits on it, like A.C. Slater on “Saved By The Bell” straddling a backward chair, as close to the audience as she can get. “ I know dead mom jokes make people uncomfortable,” she says in the special, “I know that. And if you’re uncomfortable, I don’t know what to say. You should’ve worked harder so it was you up here.” Then, she basically tells her audience to get over themselves and settle in for six minutes of dead mom jokes.” It was the invitation the crowd needed to laugh at Tomlinson’s foundational tragedy.
Something to Scroll
We all know that the internet loves a good meme and there’s no shortage of death humour out there. Here are some of my faves:
Death & Creativity
Something to read
Try this blog from What’s Your Grief where they talk about navigating grief and creative blocks. Because the advice for moving through creative blocks might be just the thing your grief needs too.
Something to watch
The Art of Grieving by Preston Zeller
This beautiful documentary follows Preston as he deals with the death of his 35 yr old brother. He commits to creating one abstract painting every day for a year as he navigates his grief. The way his emotional journey and creative masterpiece weave together is beautiful.
Something to scroll
Perhaps you’ve seen it before but it’s worth revisiting this post from Elizabeth Gilbert on grief following the death of her wife Rayya. In it she says…
“The writer Michael Pretchel says that all true grief has an element of rejoicing – but only if you are willing to allow ALL the love and all the pain to coexist. We dance because it hurts too much not to. We dance because we are so grateful to have known such deep, foundational love. We dance through our grief and WITH our grief so that our grief will not sink us. We dance with God. We dance with Rayya. We dance with life and death.”
I believe we can bring the light of our hearts to even the darkest moments. And that when we make room for the crying and the laughing, the grief and the joy, and we can create something beautiful from the pain.
p.s. If you’d like to go a little deeper grab your journal and see what comes up when you think of joy and grief and creativity and the dance they weave through our lives. Here are some journal prompts to get you started.
1 – How do you typically respond to grief? Do you allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions, or do you try to suppress them? How has this approach impacted your ability to heal and move forward? What would it look like to give yourself permission to feel both sadness and joy as you navigate grief?
2 – Write about a time when you gave yourself permission to laugh while grieving. What was the situation, and what made you laugh? How did it feel to experience joy and levity during a difficult time? What did you learn about yourself from that experience? How can you give yourself permission to laugh and experience joy more often as you continue to grieve?
3 – Consider the role of creativity in your life. What creative outlet brings you joy such as painting, singing, or dancing? How has creativity helped you process grief in the past? How might you use creative expression to explore the complex emotions that come with loss? What creative outlets or practices might you explore as you move through the grieving process?