Life Face First: Negotiating One Calamity at a Time- When Laughter Isn’t the Best Medicine



My face twitched. I pressed my lips together and prayed no sound would escape them. Tears pooled in the corners of my eyes and I squeezed them shut. I snorted. The first bubbles of laughter were rising dangerously close to the surface.

I was, of course, at a funeral.

Last week, my husband’s grandfather passed away at the age of 91. Brian and I traveled to the small town of Laurel, Mississippi to attend his services.

“Papaw” was one of the kindest men I have ever known. He loved to tell stories that made us laugh. Though I’ve always felt welcomed into Brian’s family, Papaw made me feel especially so, and he was like a grandfather to me for these last 17 years.

Why then was I laughing at the funeral of a man I admired so much?

It had nothing to do with him.

In a small southern town like Laurel, funerals are a very traditional, very church-like experiences. With great respect and solemnity, the funeral director neatly organized the many guests and large family. We had a long visitation. Then, we shuffled into the chapel at the funeral home, which looked very much like the interior of a church, for the memorial service.

The preacher stood and said a few words about Papaw, a man he’d known since childhood. Then, my father-in-law took the stage and shared some of his favorite memories about his father.

Guests and family comforted one another and passed tissues.

Then, it happened.

The room fell silent. The preacher and my father-in-law sat down. No one stood at the podium. It was time for the special music, which as all good southern churchgoers know, is when a talented member of the congregation sings for us. We were to hear Amazing Grace.

By the second note, you could tell the singer was in trouble, by the fourth note, people began to wonder if the singer actually knew what singing is, and by the fifth note, I’d clamped my eyes shut and began feverishly praying that the song would end before the laughter fully escaped me.

God, I thought, I promise to go to church every Sunday if you please, please, please help me not laugh.

Amazing Grace is a long, long, long song.

I squirmed, steadfastly stared at the back of the pew in front of me and dug my nails into the palms of my hands. As an added safety measure, I refused to make eye contact with anyone – particularly my brother-in-law who’s as bad at not laughing as I am.

When the singer skipped a few verses and jumped to the final line, I breathed a sigh of relief. I later learned that the singer made $100 dollars for her efforts and remarked wryly that she should have paid us for sitting through the “song.”

For a brief moment, it seemed that the luckiest man in the room was the deceased. At least he couldn’t hear the song. Then again, knowing Papaw, he probably would have loved to see us laugh.

Nora Blithe

Nora Blithe is the author of the syndicated humor column “Life Face First.” Read her blog online at or contact her at