Feb 292012
Authors: Jesse Benn

I have a funny story about my grandmother’s funeral.

I bet not too many people get to say that, but more should, because if I know one thing about death, it’s that the dead won’t mind anyone having a laugh.

More than 2.4 million people die every year in the United States –– the vast majority of them leaving some friends and family behind. These people, the survivors, are faced with the task of dealing with the loss of their dearly departed.

What comes next varies from person-to-person and family-to-family, but the original basic five stages of mourning are supposed to be common: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Of course, much of how you’ll react to a loved one’s passing has to do with who passed and how. I’ve been fortunate, in that the death I’ve had to deal with has mainly come in its natural order –– at least from outside my immediate group of friends.

Because of this, and because of my family’s good-humored nature, I’ve managed to take a slightly different perspective on handling death.

When my grandmother, Nan, passed away in January 2009, my partner and I were on our first international climbing trip in Mexico. My mom called early in the morning on the 12th, and I knew before she could finish her sentence.

We changed our flights, and got home as soon as we feasibly could. On our way back, though, I had plenty of time to consider my grief and my role in supporting those around me to get through theirs. I set forward one goal: to be the rock, to pretend that it was okay. Basically, I wanted to skip straight to acceptance.

My reasoning was simple; if I died tomorrow, all I would want for my loved ones is for them not to mourn a single minute. Of course, that would be impossible –– I’m far too enjoyable to be around. But the less mourning after I die, the better.

So the second I got home, I set about trying to cheer up my family, which led to an on-going joke.

In the movie “Old School,” there’s a scene when Will Ferrell screams and slams a chair while telling everyone they need to keep their composure. “Old School” is hilarious, and if you haven’t seen it, you should stop reading this and go watch it, but this scene in particular always cracked me up.

Naturally, I took the opportunity of inserting this joke into conversations with a few select loved ones as we would reminisce about Nan and inevitably get choked up. It was perfect; we’d go from tears to laughter as someone, usually me, would tell everyone it would be okay: “We just need to keep our composure.”

Now this joke was mainly used amongst the grandkids, as joking immediately following a death in the family –– even in my family –– isn’t necessarily to everyone’s taste. You could even say that in the week preceding the funeral, this became an inside joke for a few of us.

So I probably should have warned them…

You see, my brother and I both gave eulogies at the service, and, unbeknownst to everyone in on our little inside joke, I included the joke in my eulogy.

As I started talking, I slipped in a quick, “hopefully I can keep my composure,” along with a little grin. At least one member of our inside joke troupe heard me, and they laughed, out loud.

I didn’t even think about it at the time, but without the context of our joke –– which 90 percent of the room lacked –– this probably didn’t seem appropriate.

I mean, out of context, what you have is a kid who says he hopes to keep his composure while he delivers his eulogy for his grandmother, and someone laughing at them –– that seems pretty mean.

Who knows if anyone even noticed, I kind of doubt anybody except the two of us did. But when I look back on the week after Nan died, I don’t think about how sad I was, or how sad the people around me were; I think about that joke, and how close I was to family during that time.

I can’t think of any better way to have sent Nan off.

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who has Nan’s signature from the last birthday card she ever gave him tattooed on his wrist. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:22 pm

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