The Thoughts and Advice of a New Widow— 
"The Grieving Process"

(continued from page one)

Are You Laughing When Others Think
You Should Be Crying?

Some widows may be surprised to learn that they can actually be happy without their spouse, but probably not without some feelings of guilt. Iíve been keeping journals all my life, so it was only natural for me to begin writing letters to Harry when I could no longer speak to him in person. Perhaps the following comments from one of those letters about a month after he died will be helpful to those of you who are feeling guilty when you find yourself laughing at a time when others might expect to see you crying:

"Dear Harry: In remembering the happy three weeks I spent with my sisters after you died, I get guilty feelings all over again about how joyful I could be immediately following your death. I guess itís because, as your caregiver, I had to suppress so much joy for so long that it took your death to finally release it. Please forgive me for all the laughter I released right after you died. It wasnít that I was happy about you being gone, of course, but I was relieved that my severe stress from taking care of you was finally over, and grateful that your pain had finally come to an end after so many years of suffering. I was also happy to be in the company of two sisters I loved, who were doing everything possible to give me reasons to laugh.

"By nature, Iíve always been a happy person, so it only seemed natural to laugh even when a part of my heart was breaking. But I did have guilty feelings when I found that I could actually feel happy without you, and Iím still experiencing those feelings. In thinking about this, however, isnít it natural that I would keep on laughing after you were gone because you and I literally laughed together for nearly 44 years, and laughter isnít something you can turn off like a spigot. We either have the capability of finding the joy in our life and laughing throughout it, or we donít. Thanks to my years with you, my Ďfunny boneí was finely honed, and in giving me the gift of laughter throughout our married life, you enabled me to continue on without you, still able to see the funny side of life."

As I reported to my subscribers the week before Harry died, his sense of humor was still intact at the end, but now it was sharply ironic rather than funny. In the face of death, it was hard to find anything to laugh bout, but we kept trying. At that time, I could relate to something Linda Ellerbee said after winning her battle with breast cancer:

"I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can."

The Gift of Laughter

Harry would be amused to know that he is still giving me the gift of laughter when I least expect it. I laugh whenever I play one of his Big Band albums and see a title on the jacket that amused him, too, such as Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die (Les Brown); and Iím Looking for a Guy Who Plays Alto & Baritone, Doubles on Clarinet, and Wears a Size 37 Suit (my favorite Ozzie Nelson tune). I laughed the day I found an old cassette tape that included one of Harryís favorite songs, Iím Washing Harry Down the Sink. And I must have laughed for five minutes the day I found another tape without a case, neatly wrapped in paper and labeled, "Barb Snoring." That Harry had taped it in the first place to prove I had a snoring problem was funny in itself, but the fact that he had saved this tape for years (as evidence?) just cracked me up.

I also got a lovely bunch of chuckles the day I received a special gift from Doug MacLeod, a drummer friend of Harryís who had played alongside him in all the Windjammers' circus meets through the years. They had corresponded for more than twenty years, and Doug not only saved all of Harryís little hand-written and hand-typed messages, but gave them back to me. These were letters Iíd never read, and they were stuffed with information about jobs Harry had played, music he appreciated, people he had met, and, of course, little bits of humor. And what better way to close this report than with some of the funny remarks I found in Harryís letters to his old friend, Doug.

More of Harryís Humor
(The Song is Ended, But the Melody Lingers On)

"I'm on a diet—self imposed. It's going pretty well as I have lost about fifteen pounds. Of course, thatís like taking a cup of water out of Lake Michigan."

"Iím going to send a note saying I want to be a conductor at Columbia this August at the 'disorganized meet.' But then, I have been told that I have a head like a hard piece of Oak, so I guess that makes me a non-conductor."

"By the way, Doug, I found the notes for The Last Chord. Would you like them for your library? If so, please send cash."

"My pain is getting worse—so Iím on COKECANE now. I drink only Coke, and canít walk without a cane."

And my favorite . . . a neatly-typed postcard that read:

Doug:

#1. Did you get the picture?

#2. Did you get my letter about the cassette tapes?

#3. She had twins!!!!! Mine died. What should I do with yours?????

Please advise on all of the above.

I feel sorry for people who communicate now only by telephone or e-mail because real letters like Harryís are becoming extinct. If you are not already doing this, you should be printing out all those great e-mails you are sending to family and friends (your virtual diary), as well as all the messages youíre receiving from people you love or care about. Put each yearís collection in a notebook so you can read it again later. (Youíll be astonished at how many details you will have forgotten in the meantime.) I love what Oscar Wilde once said:

"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train."

Click HERE for a sample of Harryís handwriting
and a musical cartoon that cracked him up.

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Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Brabec