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
"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
"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:
#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."
for a sample of Harryís handwriting
and a musical cartoon that cracked him up.
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Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Brabec