Laughter and Tragedy and Guinea Pigs

I told my then 12 year-old daughter to go upstairs and show her cousin her guinea pig. Baby was Samantha’s pride and joy. She was a black lump of fur that never moved, one step away from being a stuffed animal, but my daughter adored her.

As I talked to my husband, brother and sister-in-law in the kitchen, I heard Samantha yell, and I ran upstairs.

“What’s wrong?” I asked Samantha.

“Baby’s all stale!” she responded. I walked over to Baby’s cage which was in the corner. Maybe that was the problem. Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

I picked up stale Baby, and realized she had probably been gone for awhile. I grabbed a trash bag and dropped her in it, which was a mistake. She hit the floor like a rock, which set my daughter off all over again.

We had a backyard funeral, and my daughter put wood shavings from the bottom of Baby’s cage in a baggy to save forever and ever. Six years later, as we were moving, I asked my daughter if she wanted to keep that bag of shavings. “That’s disgusting,” she said. Agreed.

What I remember most about the moment of Baby’s demise is the absolute shock on my daughter’s face as she tried to grasp the fact that her pet had actually stopped living. The rest of us wouldn’t have noticed for days since the thing never moved, but for Samantha it was her first brush with personal loss.

When I went downstairs to tell my husband, brother and sister-in-law what happened, we all looked at each other and then began, quietly, to laugh. Don’t worry, Samantha couldn’t hear us. But in that moment of laughter we found some release from the sadness of watching a child cry. It made us feel better.

Over a year ago my son was making a video of our 22 year-old cat, Punkin. I’d gotten her at the SPCA when she was, approximately, 2 years-old,  because she was tagged to be put down the next day. She had no front claws, but remained an indoor/outdoor cat and hunted like a pro.

Punkin made several moves with us and was mean as sin.  Even at the age of twenty-two, Punkin had no gray hair, no arthritis, and no cataracts. My sister was sure that she some kind of evil spirit. I adored her, and asked my son to make a video about determination by recounting her miraculous survival.

When my husband came in the door a few hours later to confess he had run over Punkin in the driveway, I threw my hands over my face. It wasn’t his fault, it was dark and she had apparently run under the car. My son went out, heroically, to make sure she wasn’t suffering.

He came back into the house and said, “She’s definitely dead.” Then he looked at me and said, “I guess I’m not going to finish that video on Punkin and survival.”  We both burst out laughing.

Why laugh in times of pain? Because we can. Because, like tears, it is a release valve for emotions. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t leave the hangover provided by excessive crying.

[quote button_text=”Tweet the Quote”]Laughter, in my opinion, is a brief moment of joy that leaves no room for fear.[/quote]

A couple of weeks before my dad died of cancer, I told him a story of a friend who asked her father to leave her a rainbow once he passed on. She said that on the day of her father’s funeral, she looked up and saw a huge rainbow in the sky. Dad and I looked at each other, and he covered my hand with his own and nodded.

“Dad,” I said through the tears, “you don’t have to leave me a rainbow. But a million dollars would be awesome.” We both burst out laughing, and in that moment it felt like a rainbow.

So, please forgive me if I burst out laughing at what are considered inappropriate moments. Because laughter is more than a release valve for me, it is a connection with joy. It’s a bubbling up of the light within me. It is hope. And I really, really love it.

As we face repeated tragedies in our world , we must always remember that love is greater than fear, and one small light erases darkness. But darkness can’t erase the light. Or it’s darkest before the dawn, or  something like that — I’ve forgotten the poster quotes from the 80’s, but you know what I mean.

When life feels absolutely overwhelming, when tragedies seem too much to bear, I hope that in the midst of your grief you will still find laughter. Because it is there, waiting for the tears to stop so it can fill your life with the briefest of rainbows.

And, for the moment, it will be enough.