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laughing in the face of death
potentially stupid, definitely necessary
by joe procopio (@jproco)
pop culture

After an exhausting four-day combination conference/lost-weekend, one that required a lot of driving, I returned home, crashed, and woke the next morning to the news that my Grandmother had passed away a few hours earlier.

This was not unexpected. In fact, I had packed a suit on the trip just in case I got the call. She was 93, she had been ill, and although she was lucid, she was ready to go.

Oh, and everyone claims their Grandmother is a saint, but mine was indeed a saint. Saint Grandma.

She was the only grandparent I ever knew, she single-handedly raised my father and his brother when my Grandfather died shortly after returning from WWII. She also pitched in a lot when my own Mom got sick during my pre-teen years. I'm the oldest of four. Four hellions.

Anyway, I didn't laugh when I got the news. And I'm not expecting you to laugh at that story. Instead, I'm using it to set the foundation, the tone, if you will.

That being done, I'm not trying to scratch out a grand life lesson here. It's Monday. You don't need that.

I probably shouldn't have even used "death" in the title. I'll rename it "Laughing in the Face of Doom," all right? Because "doom" kind of implies mortality, but it's also a funny word. The doctor never says "I'm sorry, sir. You're doomed." But if he did, it'd be cool if he had a recording of thunder clapping or a musical DUNH-DUNH-DUUUUUUUNH! I'd laugh my ass off, regardless of what I was about to be killed by.

Oh. Sorry. You should laugh at that.

And that's my point. Again, not a life lesson, I'm just trying to suggest we need to bring back the injection of a little humor at the worst moments. We take things way too seriously.

What things? Everything. Politics, religion, disagreements, falling satellites, reality television, Thor, air travel, poison fruit, sexual orientation, terrorists, taxes... and death.

Everything. You're in or you're out.

I had a lot of time to think about this in the car, where I sat for 24 out of the next 72 hours traveling 710 miles up and 712 back (Slurpee).

Mostly, I was feeling odd. Since she was my only grandparent, this was the first time in my life where someone I was close to died and it wasn't tragic. By tragic I mean young, and by close I mean more than Christmas cards.

So I was grieving, but not a sad, shocked, morbid kind of grieving, more like a relieved, almost happy grieving.

I know, you've probably been through this. I'm not trying to say I've invented fire here, it was just the first time for me. I'm new. Slack me.

Two things happened:

1) My closest and longest friend, get this, dropped what he was doing, left his immensely understanding wife with the kids for the weekend, and drove three hours to meet me at the funeral and stay with me at the hotel. And God bless you, dude.

So I had some relief. He knew my grandmother, sure, but he was there for me and my family.

2) After the mass and the burial, we all went back to my Grandmother's apartment, where we looked at pictures, told stories, the kind of thing I'm sure a lot of people do.

Now again, since this is a first for me, I'm just assuming what happened next is normal too. The room wasn't full of tears, it was full of smiling, laughter, jokes, the zingers and jabs that go back and forth probably during any other family gathering. Maybe even during post-funeral gatherings.

She would have loved that. Watching all that go back and forth is like being at a tennis match.

That got me thinking. Latching on to humor in the face of sadness, trepidation, and the awkward, that's kind of what I do in most situations, and if it applies to most, shouldn't it apply to all?

Look, I know the economy is in the toilet and there's war and injustice and pestilence... wait, is there pestilence?

Anyway, we've stopped laughing at it, mostly because we've stopped joking about it.

And yeah, we have political comedians and social comedians and edgy hipster pundits. But they're not funny anymore. They're just edgy. And if I want edgy I'll just watch the real news. It's the same shit without the timed pauses so people can laugh or applaud.

Much like this piece, so...

My Grandmother gets to heaven and she finally gets to meet Jesus. And he is exactly how she pictured him only more perfect in meeting her every expectation. So he welcomes her and asks her if she has any questions about heaven. She looks him up and down and says:

"You look too thin. When did you eat last?"


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio


the critic
the feelgood column of the year
by joe procopio
topic: pop culture
published: 8.1.01

smug, fearless, and what all the hoopla was about
in memory of leslie harpold
by joe procopio
topic: pop culture
published: 12.15.06


kathy carlton
10.3.11 @ 5:45p

After his mother's funeral, my father played his drums and listened to dixieland jazz and blues. We all got pretty hammered, too, if I remember correctly. When things go as well as can be expected, yeah, there should be laughter and celebration of the person's life. I love the column, and the joke at the end is absolutely perfect. She would have loved it.

tracey kelley
10.10.11 @ 10:45a

Sorry to hear about your grandma, but yeah, she probably would have liked this.

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