Friday, February 19, 2010

Good Grief

About a year after my ex-husband left, back when I was living in Syracuse, NY, my good friend Fred came to me with a request.  He was set to direct the local theater's upcoming production of Grease, and he asked if I'd audition.  I wasn't sure I was up to performing again, I was still in a pretty major funk, but Fred was very persuasive, and convinced me that I'd really be helping him out. Looking back, I think Fred was just a little worried about me and wanted to help get me back to my old self again, and I'm infinitely glad he did!

I had a blast (That's me, above, in the pink dress!)!!  Grease is a wonderfully fun ensemble show, and even though this fell during a very fragile period in my life, I must say my memories of performing that summer are beautiful and sweet, indeed!

The entire group was exceedingly talented (Fred had a LOT of connections!) including a guy named Jim who portrayed one of the male "greasers" (that's him, above, pretending to "comb" his pompadour!).  To say Jim was energetic would be like stating that Buckingham Palace was a big house.  Jim was a human SPARK PLUG!  You know that Looney Toons cartoon that features the big, fat bulldog sauntering down the street, while a tiny, yappy, happy chihuahua circles him and jumps over him?  That chihuahua was JIM!! He was in constant motion!  He talked loud, sang loud, performed loud, and lived...LOUD!!  He also possessed an enormous heart and was loved by ALL of his fellow cast members, we just needed to remind him to "sshhhh!" every once in a while!

At the celebratory cast party on opening night, Jim introduced me to his wife.  I knew a lot about Melanie because he mentioned her often during rehearsals, and it was obvious he loved her a great deal.  When I shook her hand in greeting, the first thing I noticed was how plain she was.  She was definitely not unattractive, just quite comfortable in a simple, accessory-free top and pair of jeans.  She was a very quiet woman, but also not shy.  She simply preferred to let Jim have the spotlight, which he clearly enjoyed.

Jim told one stupid joke after another that night, and Melanie sat smiling at him, hanging on his every word, throwing her head back and laughing deeply after each punch line.   It was clear that she adored this crazy, loud, attention-starved boy.  I remember feeling such happiness that night as I observed both of them. "See Joan,"  I said to myself, "there really IS someone for everyone.  Maybe there is hope STILL that you will find your soulmate!"

At the end of our successful, fun-filled run, we performed our last show, gave each other reluctant hugs goodbye, and promised we'd all stay in touch.  Someone told me a little while later that Jim and Melanie had just learned that they were expecting their first baby!  I remember thinking, "Boy, that kid is going to be EXHAUSTED!!"

About eight months later, however, I received news of a different kind. It seems that Jim had been working two jobs to help save money for his baby.  Late one night, while driving home from one of them, exhausted, Jim fell asleep at the wheel, crashed, and was killed instantly.  He would never see his son.

The funeral home was packed.  The receiving line extended out the door and across the parking lot, filled with family members and former fellow performers.  As I stood in line with the rest of the Grease alum, I wracked my brain, trying to think of something meaningful and comforting to say when it was my turn to greet Melanie.  I came up with exactly nothing.  What do you say to a woman, eight months pregnant, who has just lost the love of her life and the father of her unborn child?

She was sitting in a chair, and as I knelt down to speak to her, the grief I saw displayed on her face hit me like a punch to the gut.  I blathered something about "calling me if she needed anything, I mean ANYTHING...day or night..blah, blah, blah," then hugged her tight and left, disgusted with myself.

During the funeral service at the church, I watched as the clergyman approached the pulpit to say a few words.  He didn't do much better than I.  He mentioned all the typical things; Jim's in a better place and we should grieve but still move on, yada, yada, yada.  You could actually feel the grief in the room intensify with each empty word.

Then Jim's childhood friend, Mark, approached the podium to deliver the eulogy.  With a smile, he unfolded a wonderful story about when he and Jim were kids.  Apparently there was a certain afternoon where Jim had gotten hold of a pair of REAL handcuffs, and both of them were anxious to try them out.  Jim then proceeded to cuff his younger sister's wrist to her ankle.  Sister was not happy.  Mark told us that when Jim's mom arrived home and was greeted by her shackled, screaming daughter, she angrily approached her son and demanded that he hand-over the key.  Jim replied that he had no key.

Mark, now laughing, told the congregation that he would never forget the image of all of them piling into the car, his poor weepy sister hopping along behind them, and driving to the local police station where "the prisoner" was finally freed!

And then, just like that, an amazing thing happened.  That entire church, including Jim's grief-laden widow, was laughing.  HARD!!  We all chuckled deeply, hugging our sides, remembering our silly friend.  Of COURSE!!  THIS was EXACTLY what Jim would've wanted -- laughter!!  I glanced over at Melanie, still smiling, as she wiped away her tears and sighed deeply.  I wanted to run up to that pulpit and KISS Mark for what he had done for her, for all of us.

I learned a lot that day from Mark.  Now, whenever I am attending a funeral, I try to seek out a member of the grieving family and tell them a story about their departed loved one. Sometimes it might be a recollection of a kind deed they performed, or a silly thing they may have said once.  I like to think it's made a difference.

What about YOU?  What would YOU like to have said at your memorial service?  What story would YOU like to have told?

I hope my eulogist mentions my deep respect and love for the animal kingdom, my enormous heart for the elderly, and the amazing stupidity loyalty I possess that allows me to root for the same horrific, embarrassing, losing NFL football team year after year after year...

Thanks for Reading!!

74 comments:

Yankee Girl said...

Good lord, I was not expecting that!

(Wiping away tears), I would hope that people laugh at my memorial service. I think I have done enough stupid/funny things in my life to help people get through the (very difficult) loss.

We live in a Zoo! said...

Really what football team? ;)
What a, er, um, I hate to say great because its sad, but great story. I've never thought of what I want people to remember about me when I pass away, definately got me thinking....

lifeshighway said...

I would want people to remember that I may have not loved often but I always loved deeply.

Kellyansapansa said...

Aww, you made me cry. I've always thought I'd rather have an "after party" than a memorial service. Hopefully by the time I'm gone I will have lived a happy and full life and there will be no regrets. I'd like to be remembered with a smile too, not tears.

Bossy Betty said...

Oh man, this one had me in tears. You are so right that it is the stories we tell that help the grieving family.

I want to remembered for helping other people and for my humor and for my kick-ass cookies.

Eva Gallant said...

That was a wonderful post. thanks so much for sharing. I just dropped by from Friday Follow. Hope yoy will return the visit.

thedoggedpursuit said...

I want people to remember that the girl that was kicked out of the Girl Scouts 'cause she wouldn't/couldn't follow rules that didn't suit her, left this world better than she found it.

Deborah Ann said...

I have to say, it is rarely I cry when reading blogs. I'm crying. You have captured the heart of God here!

I was at a funeral recently, when I heard my sister tell the grieving family "I will always remember your mom smiling and laughing, she brought so much joy to me!"

And I realized...when words fail us, the most beautiful memorial we can leave, is to tell the family how their deceased loved ones made us smile! Surely this is a God thing...

Thank you for your sweet comments on my blog. You have touched my heart with your kindness! And that's what it's all about...

Krista said...

What a beautiful and thoughtful post, and tribute to your friend.

I don't want there to be a funeral when I die. I want my friends and family to have a party. I want them to tell stories about the amazing life that I have led, and all of the blessings that I have received that I certainly can't figure out what I did to deserve.

If there is a common thread in the stories told, I would like for it to be: Krista LIVED. She took calculated risks and some not-so calculated ones. She felt deeply and loved without reservation.

And of course, I want them to laugh and sing and rejoice for all of the amazing things I was able to see and do over my 150 years on the planet. ;o)

Getting My Words Out said...

How is it that you could have me crying and in tears in the same post??!!

I hope someone will be saying, "A 113 year old woman should never have gone skydiving in the first place, but she was really glad she got that marked off her bucket list. Kinda funny how she could do that one year and die in her sleep the next!!"...just before a congregation sings "Oh Happy Day" while they usher my body out with a New Orleans style (jazz festival) procession!!! And I hope there are plenty of laughs. I love Kelly's idea of an "after party"--I think I'll add that to my will!!

:D

Caz (The Truth About Mummy) said...

What a great post!! Wonderful (but sad) story. I hope things worked out well for Tracy in the long run. We lost my mother in law while I was pregnant - and just that was to much.

Heatherlyn said...

I'm not very good about funerals. I'm always annoyed that people come to pay respect for someone and honor them AFTER they are dead. Which then points to the fact that funerals are really for the living. And, what do you say to people who have lost thier loved ones? I agree that a story about their loved one would be the best, most appreciated thing. Becuase it is horrible to lose someone you love. And when all you have left is their memory, the more memories you have the better.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Dear Lord I thought I would check in before I left work and here I sit crying at my desk. Well done Joan - written beautifully....albeit sad as hell

My mom died when I was 13. To this day I vividly remember some of things that were said to me. At the time I thought some were were mean, insensitive, improper to say to a child and well just plain awful. It made me so sensitive to what is sad at funeral and/or to loved ones and sometimes it can bother me for days/weeks/months etc. Now as an adult I believe they just didn't know what to say and they believed saying something was better than nothing. I used to panic when I would have to say something as you stated in your story.
I have been sharing a story with them of late and you actually helped me to know that it may be the right thing to do and I can be less of a basket case about it now.

I hope Tracy is doing well and that her son is thriving.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

BTW, I am sorry for your loss as well Joan.

Kat said...

OH gosh, this one brought first tears and then laughter to me. This is a great story. I will never forget my brother-in-law (now also gone) standing before the people in church talking about my mother. And just when I thought I couldn't hear one more word, because I was so grief stricken, no matter how much he talked about her great sense of humor, he played a recording of her laughter. I think everyone laughed with her. And it was the best...

rwrate said...

Another home run Joan. I have very fond memories of that summer as well.

rwrate said...

I think you captured Jim's frenetic essence perfectly!

magically ordinary said...

What a lovely unexpected post!

Chloe said...

Lovely post. I haven't really thought about what I want people to say about me at my funeral. Maybe, just that I loved them with everything that I am.

There is a saying that stuck with me for a long time. Can't remember who said it... "when you were born,you cried and the whole world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice." Hopefully when I die, I have already lived my life fully. Although I'd rather not have people cry for me.

Green-Eyed Momster said...

Crying my eyes out over here!

Wow! You look beautiful in the pink dress.

I usually just give hugs at funerals and I cry my eyes out to the point where I can't speak at all.

Ugh! Bless Mark for being a ray of light that day.

Hugs!!

citymouse said...

I have spent a lot of time in the past 7 months thinking about death and funerals. I lost my mom in July and my brother last month. I think your post is spot on. In both cases, even though we were very sad, we tried to honor the person by celebrating their life. I had the honor of eulogizing my brother. That part was serious but I wrapped things up telling a story about us fighting as kids, me stabbing him in the back with a fork and him chasing me with a broom. Everyone laughed. It was a great way to end things.

CentFla said...

I would like people to say - Dang his wife is still so young looking! (love you babe - another good one!)

Pearl said...

I've been to a number of funerals, and I have to agree with you here. A memory makes a lovely gift.

Pearl

Sylvia K said...

What a marvelous and moving post! That's exactly what I would want at my funeral. Thanks for your comment on my blog. I'm so glad to have found yours and you, too, have gained a follower. Have a lovely weekend!

Sylvia

PinkPatentMaryJanes said...

Beautiful post. We went to our neighbour's funeral just over a year ago. He was the most amazing man - and, on top of it all, damned funny. He had three people speak at his service, a touching speech by his son, a respectful speech from a collegue and an hysterical speech that had us doubled over by a life-long friend. While a funeral is such a sad event, it's really important to honour the person. I also think the music's so important - I want people dancing in the aisles at my funeral!

Denise said...

What an amazing and touching story. I felt all the emotions. Happy to have found your blog too and thank you for visiting mine. I look forward to returning.

Shan said...

This was well written and I appreciate your advice, too. The other two things I've heard that I try to remember are to avoid saying, "I'm sorry" and if you're going to offer something, make it specific and something you can follow through on.

Laughter, happy memories and good music are what I want, and I can say with certainty that I hope people *don't* remember the times when I have been a jerk. Maybe they could remember that those times have waned as the years have grown.

It hardly seems appropriate to mention now (this inappropriateness is a family trait... I fight it when I can), but you are the prettiest one in that first photo. Those *wigs*... yikes, haha.

LISA said...

Joan, I would like to think that, about you, someone would say "she always reminded us to think about, to remember, and to appreciate the important things in life." I was on your periphery at Nordonia and reading your blog takes me back home each and every time. Thank you.

{Kimber} said...

wow...this is a great reminder that each day is precious!!

Madmother said...

Beautiful. I think we all dream of that sort of last hoorah.

I have been to friends wakes, the ones I remember the most are the celebration of life ones. I want my friends to all tell MM stories, the ones I'd kill them for repeating in life, but would appreciate in death.

Oh, and I always wanted to do a home movie, going "BOO!" for mine.

ReformingGeek said...

That was an awesome post!

I hope people remember that I liked to smile and make people laugh and not the time I walked into the sliding glass door. ;-)

Missy said...

Following you back - love it!

KathyB said...

Such a beautiful post, Joan. Just beautiful.

Kakka said...

Thanks for sharing that Joan, while I chuckled I still had tears rolling down my face, I hope Jim's son grows up knowing all these wonderful stories about his Dad.

When my F-I-L died they played Running Bear - which was his favourite song and we could all picture him dancing around as he did every time be heard the song.

MP said...

I'm afraid I'm not adding much new here, but this was a beautiful post. Incredible.

Debbie(single;complicated) said...

what a tragic and beautiful story!!!!
You have a great blog!!! :)

LucyCooper said...

Boy, do I know what you mean! As you know from visiting Four Jugs, I lost my grandpa last week.(thank you by the way for your precious comment :o) The service at the church made me sad- the guy did his best, but he really did not know my grandpa and his words just did not resonate with me. Afterward, though, I had a BLAST sharing memories with my cousins, my dad and brother, my Aunts, my whole family. It was amazing- to be reminded of things I'd forgotten and hear new stories about him- so much more satisfying than sitting in s somber service. I hope there will be a houseful of people eating, drinking and laughing after my funeral- no matter what gets said at the service!

Love your layout!

Lucy

CJsMonnie said...

What a powerful story. I cried, I laughed, I sobered up again.

Funerals are awkward moments for me. I am one of those people who can't cry until weeks or months afterward. It's a relief to discover a PC way to honor the loved one, the grieving family and friends and to convey my own feelings.

May I ask how Melanie is doing? What about their baby?

RN Mama said...

What a funny story! I honestly have no idea what I would want said at my funeral. I do hope there would be laughing, and I would love for someone to sing the song "I Can Only Imagine" by MercyMe.

Red Shoes said...

I always try to tell funny anecdotes when i attend wakes... It does lighten the feel up a bit... and breaks some of the saddness... even if for a moment... I havent thought about stories for my funeral, but I did post not long ago about the music I have selected for it...

This is a wonderful post... :o)

~shoes~

Jean said...

At my father's funeral his best friend told a very fitting story in his eulogy that might not have gone over too well with the priest however it had the whole church in hysterics! It truly was one of the most wonderfully uplifting moments that was very much needed at the time. During a grieving time where you feel like a laugh is impossible there are those people who can share a moment like that with you and it will stay with you forever! Laughter through tears is honestly one of the best feelings and it certainly teaches you an important lesson!

Helena said...

Thanks so much for this post. I have an 81 year old dad who I know will have to leave us soon. I think I will take your advice into account and start taking note of all the delightful things I know about my dad so that when that time comes, we can all have a wonderful time remembering and celebrating his life!

Holly said...

We had a similar thing happen at a funeral for one of my aunts. Everyone was very somber and her osn in law got up and told a story about all of her sister and their husbands, etc. and everyone had a smile because he hit the nail on the head. I do not want to think about my own funeral...I get all weird like that!

Eternally Distracted said...

What an amazing post - loved it. I will never forget going to the funeral of a friend who died when we were both 13, his mother got out of the car and hugged all of us kids individually and told us not to cry as it was a day to celebrate life - I will never forget the strength she showed that day.

Mercy said...

I've never been to a funeral so I don't know what I would do, especially if it was someone I was close to. I hope I don't have to experience that any time soon.

Grease is so funny, but even better was my husband's rendition of Grease Lightening and Summer Days. He did John Travolta's part, and though dancing is not his forte, he can sing and act and he really looked the part. (He did this for a show one time.)

marylea said...

Stumbled upon your blog and totally enjoyed this story. Thanks so much for sharing. What a great observation about helping others as they grieve.

Lori said...

Wow! What an amazing story. You did a wonderful job of describing their relationship from beginning to end and had me laughing while imagining Jim's sister hobbling along. Brought tears to my eyes as I sit here with my morning coffee. I'm glad I meandered over this morning.

Menopausal New Mom said...

Hi, thanks for following me. I like the name of your blog too although I think in my experience the title would be "Anyone" instead of "Anything"!

I'll be following you too although judging from the other comments here, not sure I want to start with a sad story.

anat said...

Good morning! Thank you for the follow. I'm now following you too. Can't wait to read some more of your posts.
Have a beautiful day:)
Anat

Lori said...

Beautiful post, Anything Fits. I have to laugh, because I thought you were a naked man hitting on Single Debbie. ;) I thought I'd scope out your site and check you out. What a nice surprise--you have a great blog. I'm sure I'll check back often. Interestingly, my last post included an "ode" to Grease.

Thanks for the smile.

Lori@

www.hintonrae.wordpress.com

MindyMom said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog and leading me here. That was a great story!

I have been to a funeral where many of the deceased's friends and family each got up and told a story about their departed friend/relative. I decided then that would be the kind of service I would want for myself. It's those little moments and shared experiences that make life grand.

Tracie said...

Your story was beautiful, sad, and it had elements of humor and lightness. Well done.

As for your question, I don't want a funeral or memorial service. I hope people are able to remember me with a smile on their faces and a funny story to share.
xoxo

Mary@Holy Mackerel said...

What a touching, sad, and happy post.

I'd like to have people laugh at my funeral,and remember the very many stupid things I did, and how I maybe put a little happiness into their lives.

Joe @ 20 To Life said...

What a beautiful story. I would hope when I pass on, that people will have fun, "remember when" stories about me, and some crazy shinanaginns that we got up too! That, & that they miss me - but they're glad I was here. :)
Lovely post, and I'm following you right back from FF - you have a great blog!
Joe.

Dr Zibbs said...

"Why don't you put out a missing person's report?"

(That's my John Travolta impression)

Dr Zibbs said...

..also, are you on Twitter?

Boomer Pie said...

Very touching and moving post. Whenever I write a sympathy card, I always include an annecdote about the dearly departed. It's so much more meaningful than..."our deepest condolences".
Whatever happened to Jim's wife?

Velvet Over Steel said...

This is an amazing story of sadness and yet apprecitation for life. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog so I could find yours. You're an terrific writter and I look forward to reading more of your stories. Thank you so much my new friend!!!
Hugs,
Coreen

SLN said...

A few months ago I lost a dear a friend and after his funeral a bunch of us decided to write our own eulogies and then shared them with one another- sort of silly, I suppose, but we laughed and were able to end the day with memories refreshed and fond thoughts of our friend.

iheartbowheads.blogspot.com said...

oh what a great story!!!!!! Thank you for sharing. I loved it.

Holly

rxBambi said...

wow, this was a good post. I feel almost like I was there. I have tears in my eyes and laughing at that story.

Someone once asked me what song I'd like played at my funeral. I said I don't know, but probably Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. =)

I'd like to be remembered as... hmmm... I thought it'd be easier. Smart, funny, dog-lover, a good mom, (well with the last two we might as well add them together: good lover...hahaha), ummm what else? Now I have to think about that for a while...

Sir Thomas AKA (Winters Reaper) said...

*sighs*

girl you rock and I think anybody that has you as a friend is blessed...

Spot On Your Pants said...

wow. that was not the twist i was expecting. life is short. everyone needs a little greasing. glad you have the memories.

Rianna said...

LOVE!! Thankyou! xo

Krista said...

What a beautiful post. I'm one of those people who never knows what to say in situations like this. I usually say nothing. I'm going to try to change that.

I guess I would like to be remembered as a mother who raised three wonderful, successful boys. As a person always ready with a kind word and a brilliant solution. Oh.... And for my discovery of the cure for cancer. ;)

Darlene said...

What a beautiful post. Happy, to sad, to happy. I will have to think about what I would want people to say or how to remember me. I have always heard if you can tell a little light-hearted story it helps the grieving family.

Insanitykim said...

Wow, very touching and sweet post!

I would hope I gave reason to celebrate for the ones who loved me. And just being there for the ones who have lost means so much, sounds like all your words were right on! Thank you for sharing!

THE OLD GEEZER said...

What people think and say about me after I die will fade into silence in a few short years.
What's important to me is to hear these words from Jesus;
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant"

Have a wonderful week Joan,

You elderly friend, Ron

Jenny said...

You are hilarious girl. I really need to get you into my sidebar.

Erin said...

Amazing post Joan! I'm weeping through tears! My brother handcuffed me to the stove when we were kids, so I relate. It's one of our favorite brother/sister stories to tell at family gatherings.

I'd want laughter at my funeral too. Making others laugh is the talent I have that I treasure the most, and I guess I'd want it to carry on, even after I'm gone. :)

Taylor-Made Wife said...

What a gret story. I definitely want people to laugh at my funeral. Even if it means their making fun of me ;)

Taylor-Made Wife said...

I meant they're not their. sorry for the bad grammar....its a Monday thang

Sarah said...

Wow, that one got me crying. I cannot fathom Melanie's pain.
I hope everything turned out ok for her and her son.
To me, a funeral should be a celebration of ones life. I hope
there would be laughter, good stories and lots of music at mine.
What a good friend you had to help you during such a hard time
in your life.

Rachel said...

One of the greatest gifts I was ever given was to spend the last couple of years with a dear friend as they battled cancer.

I saw firsthand how they LIVED every moment. Out loud. Not being afraid to tell people how much they loved and cared and appreciated them.
Trying new things. Cramming a million memories in each day.

It was a long and joyful goodbye if that makes any sense. The funeral was no different... every story made people remember and laugh. And we all walked away a bit more grateful.

I hope no one has to lie at my funeral :) That is my motto... live so you're proud of what they can honestly say about you.

Thank you for capturing this story so beautifully...

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