Monday, October 20, 2014

A time to laugh

In our bathroom we have a wall-hanging with Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 on it:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.
a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,

 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak

,a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

I love this passage; almost every time I glance at the wall-hanging I spend a moment thinking about some particular phrase in it.  In fact, I've been pondering the idea of doing a blog series about it ... someday.  (I suppose if there is a time for everything, then that time will come.)

But the part that has struck me the most in the last while is this pairing:

A time to weep, and a time to laugh.

When I look back at the past three months from the time of my mom's illness to her death and afterward, I remember so many laugh-out-loud moments.

The day we took Mom to the hospital and she was admitted, Dad and I were helping her into the van.  She was very weak, but as she climbed in, she said, "Well, they'll be able to tell we're from the country:  we're all wearing plaid."  And we were!  It was not at all unusual for my mom and dad both to be wearing plaid, as this photo attests -- but I was, too. 


In the early days after she was hospitalized, Mom was very confused.  She had high calcium in her blood, and was being given fluids and IV meds to bring it down.  During that time she said some very strange things.  Of course if someone were in a chronic state of hallucination and confusion due to mental illness or dementia, it could be terrible for that person and his or her loved ones; I don't want to make light of that.  But there were many times when we couldn't help laughing.  Mom kept talking about letters -- "how the D's and the F's were all coming in waves" -- and at one point she looked right at me and said, "And I just didn't know how to interpret that!"  She said once (and keep in mind this was August), "It must be snowy out there; they put these green leggings on me.  Well, my legs always were my best feature."  She pointed at one of my brothers and said, "He's the sign of the promised land, you know."  And when my cousin, who had lost her hair due to chemotherapy and was wearing a knitted hat, came in to the hospital to visit, Mom looked at her for a while and then said, "What does she do with that hat?"  ("Uh -- wear it," my cousin laughed.)

When Mom was more back to herself mentally and helping -- from her hospital bed -- to direct the packing for Dad's move to the apartment, she told one of my brothers that she really should be at the house herself to make those decisions.  "After all," she said, "It was my kingdom."

A day or two before her death, Dad told Mom that she was the best woman he'd ever met.  Her response:  "You haven't met many women."

I'm glad that sentence is there in the Ecclesiastes passage, telling us that there is a time when it's good and right to laugh.  But I'm sure the writer isn't talking about malicious laughter at others' expense or cheap laughter at vulgar things (sitcoms come to mind). Rather, the moments of laughter that I've described seemed to happen when we were living intensely and deeply at the heart of life, not just skimming the surface of existence.  I've never had that experience before of spending hours and days at a person's bedside, watching for signs, counting breaths.  These times were accompanied by so many feelings:  sorrow, exhaustion, gratitude, hope, fear ... and laughter.  I look back and think, "We really lived during that time."

There was weeping, too.  But right now, I'm remembering the laughter.


15 comments:

  1. I love this, Jeannie - beautifully expressed! YES, I too have experienced that intensity and depth of living that come with proximity to death. Many years ago my father's wife passed away due to a brain tumour - her last months were a profoundly holy time of tenderness mixed with laughter. I remember one occasion in particular when her thoughts (apparently internally clear) came out in string of nonsense words that made her laugh. Thank you for this loving tribute to your Mom, and for sharing with us this glimpse into a life well lived to the end.

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    1. Thanks so much, Franceen, for your thoughts.

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  2. Thank you, Jeannie. This was profound and beautiful. Filing it away mentally for future use - to write down the things that are being said, both funny and sad. I just love your heart and your willingness to let us in on how you are processing these events.

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    1. Thank you, Melody - I really appreciate you saying that. xo

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  3. The best laughter really does come when we are right down in their in the deepest parts of life, Jeannie. And tell us, please, did you and your brothers all inherit your mom's best feature - those legs?

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    1. Ha ha, I can't speak for my brothers but I hate my stubby short legs. Then again, as I mentioned in another post, I have walked 5,600km+ back and forth to Jonathan's school with these legs (http://prinsenhouse.blogspot.ca/2014/06/a-journey-of-5600-kilometres-begins.html) so I certainly can't complain about them!!!!

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  4. As a Nurse and also someone who has done a bedside vigil your words are very true! No one understands unless from personnel experience. All this talk about Euthanasia nowadays makes us think about dying more!

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    1. I agree, Barb. Just yesterday I was reading a Toronto Star article about palliative care and how often there is a very different reaction to that concept from patients with aggressive cancers (which Mom had) and patients with, let's say, heart problems. It was really interesting and described our experience so well. But you don't really know till you've been there, do you?

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  5. I laughed out loud at some of your mom's comments! I'm glad that you were able to experience laughter as part of that final time with your mom here on earth.

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    1. Thanks, Laura. Yes, we sure had some funny moments. I don't think I'll ever wear my plaid top again without thinking of my mom (and checking to see what everyone else is wearing).

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  6. Jeannie, reading this intimate piece had me laughing at times, while crying at other times. Thanks for sharing and touching my heart and soul. Hugs to you my friend.

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    1. Thanks so much, Pam -- hope to see you ... in a week!

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  7. I love this: "the moments of laughter that I've described seemed to happen when we were living intensely and deeply at the heart of life, not just skimming the surface of existence." Something about laughter makes us feel better even in the worst or saddest of situations, doesn't it. (I just tried to write a comment, so I'll keep this shorter in case you did get the first one.) :-)

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  8. Okay, now I see my first comment WAS lost. :-) I had just said that my father just put his wife of 35 years into a nursing home because he can't care for her. It's sad for us all, but last week talking to him on the phone, we were able to laugh about some things, and I felt so much better.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Betsy. I think laughter is a real gift to our lives no matter what we're experiencing. It must be hard for your father and the whole family at this time of transition, too, and I'm glad you were able to see the lighter side.

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