I love to laugh. My whole family does. We laugh at weddings, we laugh at funerals, we laugh THAT we laugh. We all laugh, all the time. At, and through, almost anything. And I come from a very long line of pranksters, on both my paternal and maternal sides. Which has always given us that much more to laugh at! But just to illustrate how laughter can help heal in the midst of sorrow, I need to tell you the squirrel story. Some of you may have heard parts of the story, but few of you have heard it all. So allow me to pull a Paul Harvey on you and give you “the rest of the story.”
My sweet-and-sour mom, Dorothy, passed away just after midnight on a very foggy December 12, 2007. She was 79, and her decline and passing were both quick and quiet. We never had a chance to say those all important words of farewell. (No need for the “I Love You” scene. We all knew how much we loved each other.) Our family got through the funeral and its aftermath the same way we have gotten through everything—we laughed through tears, then we laughed about that, knowing that that is just the way our family does it.
Then January came, and with the holidays over, moods got heavy. I missed my Mom dearly. We all did. To compound that, my Mom’s sister, “Munner,” had gone into the hospital on New Year’s Eve and was declining by the day (I’ll always think she died of a broken heart over the loss of her best friend, her sister, Dorothy Wayne Owen). But we supported each other completely and tried our best to keep our spirits up.
One bright January morning I woke up, got out of bed and went into the bathroom to do what everyone does in the bathroom when they wake up. And when I looked down in the toilet bowl, I saw…..something. Fluffy, wet, with big eyes, looking up at me, and obviously not living. At first I thought it was a stuffed toy animal, which turned out being halfway right. I (literally) rubbed my eyes, turned the light on, and realized it was…….a dead squirrel.
In my toilet. Dead. And Ex-squirrel. Its metabolic processes were history. He’d shuffled off his mortal coil and joined the choir invisible. (If squirrels sing, that is.)
Both of my dogs were still sound asleep, so I knew our little visitor hadn’t done an Esther Williams water-dance number before making its final dive into the pool. (The dogs would have had a fit!!!) But I remembered that squirrels seldom travel alone, so I quickly and nervously looked in the hamper and the shower to make sure the squirrel’s little friends hadn’t assembled for its funeral.
I knew not to try and flush the little guy back down (I didn’t need a clogged commode to compound the already strange day!), so I needed to extract the little bugger from its watery grave. But how?? Kitchen tongs, I thought! I’ll get those! So I ran to the kitchen, came back, grabbed the little thing’s shoulders, and pulled. No-go. That squirrel had birthin’-hips that were stuck in the drain. So with both hands I yanked again. POP went the rodent! I pulled it out………and had nowhere to put it. So one more trip into the water for the poor thing and one more quick trip to the kitchen and back to the bathroom with a plastic WalMart bag. As trash pickup was not for 3 days, I put the little plastic-wrapped carcass in the garage deep freeze. And yes, I threw the tongs away.
On the way into the office later that morning, I called my cousin Melissa, who was with Munner (her mother) in the hospital. I told her the strange happenings of my morning, and she said “wait, let me put this on speaker….tell Munner.” And I did. Then I heard Munner start to laugh and she said “Billy, that’s just Dorothy pulling a joke on you!!!” My cousin and I laughed with her, I told her I’d call back later, and hung up. Then I pulled into a parking lot and had a big ol’ ugly cry.
As I cried, I Iaughed. And when I stopped crying, I laughed some more. That SO did sound like a prank Mom would pull. Even though we never got to say goodbye, our history of love and laughter would, and did, see us through. It still does on dark evenings or warm summer days when I find myself missing Miz Dorothy.
That, friends, is just one of the ways you can laugh your way through the chaos that tragedy will eventually come into all of our lives. Laugh at what was good as you cry at what was lost. Dr. Seuss said it best—“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” You get through it—and I still giggle about it, and not cry, when I think about the squirrel, the prank, and my Mom!
More new content soon, so please return. And remember to laugh today!