A Mother's Laugh
December 23, 2007 is the day my beloved mom passed away. This year will make two long years without her in our lives. I have finally moved passed what has at times felt like paralyzing grief. These days my bereavement is not so intense. I am therefore able to conjure up more positive memories that make me smile amid my sadness. One such memory is my mom’s laugh.
It is hard to describe her laugh. It wasn’t infectious or ruckus or even contagious. Still, it was unique because it was always sincere and heartfelt.
A few months back I entered a phase of temporary depression based on the fact that I missed hearing the sound of her voice and her laugh. Don’t get me wrong I can hear it clearly in my mind and can recall it at will, when I think of her. I can picture her laughing with my mind’s eye as I write this and it makes my heart smile. However, even with those memories firmly implanted, I often find myself desperate for a live conversation with her- reminiscent of our conversations of old- in which we could talk seriously one second and laugh hysterically the next.
Watching my mom laugh was always the best part of making her laugh, in my opinion. If she was genuinely tickled by what you said, you knew it instantly. She had a great sense of humor and was quick to grasp a note of sarcasm or irony. She laughed easily when you described your own actions in a less than flattering way. She sensed when you wanted someone to laugh with you or at you, and when you needed to be told you were being too hard on yourself. So she was careful not to blur the lines by laughing at a comment that needed to be taken seriously.
Years of attentive listening enabled her to be discerning in such a way. It endeared her to many people of varying ages, backgrounds, and ethnic make-ups. If you were funny you could count on the fact that my mom would recognize it and appreciate your humor.
Watching Her Laugh
How do I describe the way my mom laughed? It began with her mental recognition that a joke or funny observation had just been made by the one talking to her. A glint would enter her eyes. Her expression would visibly brighten as her smile began to form. Her eyes would widen and then simultaneous to her laughter would be the tell-tale cock of the head. Leaning to the left or the right, her head would make a quick cocking motion just as a laugh would break out. Her grin would quickly change into an all out laugh that would last just the right amount of time for the funny observation you just shared.
Now if you were very funny, the laugh would be extended. Of course, that was the type of laugh I most enjoyed with her. If I was at my best, I could keep the laugh revolving. One witty expression following another in rapid succession would guarantee no less than a good minute of just hearing and watching her laugh.
- Laughter is the Best Medicine
An article provided by Helpguide.org about the contagious effect of laughing together. Also discussed is the mental/emotional healing that a good laugh provides.
The Most Important Laugh of All
There was one time that making my mom laugh was unquestionably the most important accomplishment of my life. It occurred while she was hospitalized the month before we lost her. After my sister and I decided we had to go against her wishes and call 911 to rush her to the hospital, we endured terrifying hours as she was intubated and placed in the Cardiac ICU.
My first visit with her in a conscious state was about to take place. I didn’t know how alert my mom would be, so felt I needed to take precautionary steps in case she was alert enough to remember how sick I always felt. She truly worried about me constantly. Always aware of any slight alteration of my voice, any small change in my countenance which might indicate a flare-up of any sort. Just by looking in my eyes, she could tell if I was scared, depressed, annoyed or sick. With a mom who is that observant, you have to plan in advance to present yourself in a way that will not worry her when she is already in a weakened state.
I decided humor would be my best defense. If I entered the room laughing and joking around, I figured she would relax about how I was doing. I was truly stressed out and petrified. Seeing my mom unconscious with a tube helping her breathe was almost too much to witness. Trying to suppress those emotions enough that it would not alert her to my inner turmoil took much determination. Love conquers all though, and so for my mom I was up to the challenge.
My husband and I share a running joke based on the hand-shake of the old-schoolers. You know the type - the handshake that took forever to complete. The handshake of the 70’s . It can take place in many different ways, the trick is getting the person you shake hands with to continue it with you. My husband and I have mastered it with each other. We can extend it for as long as the other one wants to play along. We even included my mom in our running gag every now and then. I decided that would be the best way to greet my mom. If it worked, I knew she would feel I was doing OK and was handling her hospitalization just fine. If it failed . . . well failure was not an option, let’s just put it that way.
Now along with the handshake, I decided saying something from that time period would push the joke over the edge. Most men would greet each other with, “Hello, my brother!” I decided to use a gender appropriate version of that greeting, which I learned from my husband.
Entering the room, I broke out into a big smile. My mom and I made eye contact. I got very close to her and extended my hand. When she put her hand in mind, I grasped it with both my hands. My mom’s nickname was “Ocean”, so I said, “Hello Ocean, my sista” Then I broke into my “soul handshake” The regular handshake, followed by the soul grip, followed by the fist knock – front and back. All the time I was holding my mom’s hand so that she would have to duplicate my gestures unknowingly. I remember adding a, “how ya doing my Ocean” in there just to be safe.
The result? Happily, it worked! My mom was using a BPAC machine to get more oxygen in her system. She was unable to talk, but still managed to get the biggest kick out of my Tom Foolery. She was laughing hysterically even though she couldn’t utter a sound. The head cock was there, the bright eyes the wide grin. I had made my mom laugh under the worst conditions imaginable. I had achieved my goal, my mom wasn’t aware of how I was doing and I could relax safe in the knowledge that I had not added to her already precarious situation.
Even though my mom never recovered enough to be released from that hospital, I still remember feeling in awe of her ability to enjoy the moment and have a good laugh. Being in critical condition, for what would be the last 30 days of her life, didn't rob her of her sense of humor.
I think it is easy to understand why I miss the sound of her voice and the way she laughed. I’d like to think she passed on her sense of humor to each of her 3 girls. I remember times we all spent together just laughing and having a good time. I do miss those days. I absolutely miss my mom. . . Boy could she laugh!
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I must add, that it feels good to finally be able to share memories, both happy and sad about my mom.
Even though there will always be an empty space where she belongs, it helps to write about my feelings.
Here are the links to my memories of mom or "Ocean" as we lovingly called her.