The evening after my aunt's funeral a group of us are sitting around the dining room table at my uncle's house. Mostly we refer to this group as "the cousins, with me, my sister, my aunt's three kids, and a couple significant others as well. The conversation is exactly what it should be at a time like this - a mix of laughter and sadness, memories of younger days and happier occasions, acknowledgments of our individual lamentations over the loss of a loved one.
After a bit, my cousin E.'s daughter R. (age 5) walks up and climbs in E.'s lap. She pulls at E.'s wrist to get a better look at the watch she's wearing, a watch that used to belong to my aunt - "Mama" to E. and her family.
R: That's Mama's watch?
E: That's right, it's Mama's watch.
R: Why you wearing Mama's watch?
E: I just thought today would be a good day to wear it.
R: I wish Mama could wear Mama's watch.
I thought my heart would break. What do you say? E. said the exact truth: "I wish Mama could wear Mama's watch too." To which R. responded: "I wish Mama didn't have to be died."
Now, I'm all for good grammar, but there comes a point where the meaning is clear and the incorrectness is more cute than problematic. Yes, R., we all wish Mama didn't have to be died. There was a marked silence from all the cousins as we sat and thought of our own sadness, watching R. try to come to understand what has really happened with Mama. But then, almost immediately, we move back to laughing:
R: Is Mama with Jesus?
E: Yes, Mama's with Jesus now.
R: And Jesus can fly?
E: Um, sure, Jesus can do whatever he wants to do. That's the fun thing about Jesus!
I had to actively stop myself from cutting in. Really? Is that the fun thing about Jesus? 'Cause, I mean, lots of things about Jesus seem fun - water to wine, walking on the Sea of Galilee, eternal salvation for lost souls - but apparently, THE fun thing about Jesus is that he can do whatever he wants, including flying.
That dichotomy - sadness, laughter, sadness, laughter - lasted through my entire trip. Seeing my grandparents convulsing with sobs over the loss of their first child, the child who brought them together (hey, no judging, sometimes the timing of marriage and baby doesn't work out as it's traditionally "supposed to"). Then hearing my grandfather lean over to my grandmother and joke that he didn't want to have any more kids, but they could still practice. Or watching my grandmother break down on her way to the reception, then convincing her to do some donuts in the parking lot with her electric wheelchair. Or laughing at my grandfather for trying to steal tissues from the funeral home, finding out that we'd actually bought the tissues FOR him, then going to find other tissues that he could actually steal, because that would be more "fun." This is how we handle loss in my family.
Sometimes, laughing through the tears is all you can do.