Of course there is sadness in death. But there is laughter, too. At weird moments gallows humor slips in and you find you’re laughing so hard your stomach hurts.
Before my 97 year old grandmother passed away a few years ago from Alzheimer’s – and generally being 97 years old – she was living with my parents. We were all gathered in my parent’s living room and grandma was sitting next to me. It was loud. But it was always loud. My Dad had been nearly deaf all his life after a childhood illness took most of his hearing. As kids, we weren’t allowed to play music in the house because he couldn’t hear over it. And on this particular day there was the usual talking at high volume that blanketed my childhood.
I felt a hand on my arm and I looked into the face of my frail, miniature grandma. She almost never spoke at that point and usually referred to me as ‘That Girl’ because she couldn’t remember my name. But she leaned over to me and whispered. ‘You were smart to marry a quiet man. Most men are always so loud and they never shut up.’ She pointed at Jeff with her crooked finger, and then she sat up straight and went back to her stoic vague self.
But she was right. Marrying a quiet man has it’s advantages. When Jeff says something I listen intently. So on the day my Dad died I wondered what we should do. I felt at lose ends, not knowing how to send him off. My Dad liked scotch – A LOT. Whenever we visited him, Jeff made sure to stop off at an Oregon liquor store and bring him a bottle of something good, not the rot-gut stuff he usually drank. So we went down to a local place that has pretty good top-shelf scotch and we raised a glass. After our toast, I mused.
‘Where do you think my Dad is right now?’ I asked Jeff. I knew he couldn’t possibly know, but he knew I was looking for comfort. Without hesitation he said ‘He’s in a hospital.’
I was shocked. ‘He’s dead. He’s not in a hospital.’ I said, a little taken aback.
‘Yes he is.’ he said with confidence. ‘He’s a baby being reborn.’ As though Jeff couldn’t believe I wouldn’t think that too.
‘So you believe in reincarnation?’ I asked. Surprised we’d never had this conversation.
‘Of course.’ And he took another sip of the good stuff.
I hardly knew what to say. ‘Assuming you’re right, you think it happens that fast? They don’t give him some time on a celestial beach or a debrief session or something?’
Jeff seemed very sure of what he was saying. ‘Time is relative. Our perception of time is linear. It’s not that way in every place in the universe or the multi-verse. We can’t perceive it any different than this. But it is different.’
This was very Jeff.
‘So you think my Dad is a baby being born right now?’
‘Yup. I think he’s already been born. He has a bunch of things he learned here. But he has a lot more to learn – based on all the stuff I saw when I knew him.’ Again, totally confident in what he was saying. It made me pause.
Any American of my age will remember when the show ‘All in the Family’ premiered on US televisions in the 1970’s. It was a sensation in the era of the Vietnam war and it chronicled the story of the Bunker family in Queens, NY. The father, Archie Bunker, was a bigoted (aka racist) working class white guy who fought in WWII. His wife, Edith, was a typical wife of the time who was there to wait on Archie hand and foot. Archie called her ‘Dingbat’. It means he thought she was stupid. Their only daughter was married to a college grad student (to evade the war) who was against the Vietnam war, and he was active in his disapproval of Archie’s bigotry, misogyny, and his abusive treatment of his wife. When the show aired we all watched it in our house. My Dad didn’t get some of the jokes since he was Archie Bunker. Only on steroids. It’s why I have no patience for racism, xenophobia, ethnocentrism. Call it what you will.
When I was small, my older brother and sister had friends in school who were Italian or Latino. They came to our house a few times and my Dad referred to them as ‘Wops’ or ‘Degos’. Those are old-timey derogatory terms for Italians or Hispanic people in the US. My sister dated an NBA basketball player at one time. When she brought him home to meet my parents I wanted to sell tickets to my friends. Not because he was a famous guy, but because they were all interested in seeing the look on my Dad’s face. They knew. The guy was 6 foot 9 and big. And he was African American.
So when Jeff said that my Dad was probably already a baby. I had a thought.
‘Well, if karma is the fickle mistress I know her to be, then my Dad is either Italian, Hispanic or Black now. Maybe all three! What an interesting thought.’ And it was my turn to take another sip of that smokey, peaty liquid.
‘Nope.’ Said Jeff. ‘Chances are – statistically speaking – he’s been born in China.’
I smiled, wide eyed. ‘Holy moly! My Dad is a Chinese baby boy!’
Jeff just chuckled. ‘Who said anything about him being a boy?’
At that I spit out my drink. I was laughing so hard I cried. I couldn’t stop.
I reiterated this conversation to my Mom and she made me laugh again.
‘Well, Jeff’s such a genius.’ she told me. ‘So it’s probably true. Dad as a baby. Already? It’s a lovely thought.’
And she’s right – it is a lovely thought. Hang on to your baby bonnet, Dad. I don’t know anything about being Chinese, but this girl-thing isn’t quite as easy as it looks.