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What I Learned From Clowns
A few years ago I went to a funeral visitation for the wife of a retired co-worker. I didn’t know the deceased but I knew she was in her sixties and had battled cancer for a number of years. She and her husband were very religious people.
I took my kids, who were about 7 and 8 years old at the time to the funeral home with me. At first the visitation looked pretty typical, people were dressed nicely, paying their respects and visiting with family members. But along with the somber friends and family members mingling through the room, were several clowns, making balloon animals and doing magic tricks. It was then that I recalled that the deceased had been a member of a local clown troupe for many years and had worked at events from time to time as a clown. Apparently she had requested that her clown troupe attend her visitation dressed in full clown attire.
The clowns were happy to see my kids since there hadn’t been many children accompanying their parents to the visitation that day. So they kept my kids entertained while we waited our turn to express our condolences to the family.
Everyone at the visitation received a copy of a short note written by the deceased before she passed away. She said that she learned a lot about life from having cancer and that even the process of dying was a learning experience and made her a better person. Imagine that! How many people would see a lengthy battle with cancer to be a learning experience or an opportunity to become a better person?
Her note also said that nobody gets out of this world alive and that if you take yourself too seriously then the joke is on you. Needless to say, this message was underscored by the clowns mingling with the mourners.
Although I didn’t really know the deceased, I was struck by the courage and dignity expressed in that final message and in how this woman faced her own impending demise. She learned from it and it made her a better person. And then she saw fit to share some of what she learned with us.
Many of us, if we knew we were dying, would be so preoccupied with our fear and so full of self pity that we would lose site of the big picture and wouldn’t think to learn anything from it or to pass anything meaningful to those we leave behind.
It’s strange how much we can learn about life by observing how other people face death.