There is a scene from a medical television show: A surgeon is unable to save his patient. As he approaches the waiting room to break the news to the family that their father/husband/friend did not survive, he pauses behind the window. The group is standing up, after hours of anxiously waiting, and someone is telling a funny story. They are all smiling and laughing. The doctor watches the animated group, and turns to the nurse who is about to push open the door. In a soft voice, he directs her, “No, wait. They don’t know yet. In this moment, they are happy. Let them have this moment for a little longer.”
At some point, of course, the door has to open. The news must be relayed. Their world has to break apart. But it’s only because they have the information. Their loved one wasn’t alive in the moments before that door opened… but they were happy. They were laughing about something. Possibly a story about the man who was now gone.
When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Tim drowned in the ocean on Senior Skip Day. His funeral was the first funeral I ever attended. My boyfriend, Gene, and I sat in the back. At some point, Gene couldn’t breathe, so we slipped out of the back door and stood in the foyer of the chapel. His friends Dean and Shane came out to check on us. To help make Gene feel better, we all began telling “Tim stories”. They were, of course, hilarious stories, and within minutes we were all laughing so hard we were crying (again). Unfortunate timing, because the funeral had ended and the doors to the chapel opened, and people began to walk out… frowning at us while we laughed.
Both of my grandmothers were wonderful story-tellers. And my father-in-law was one of the best story tellers ever. One of the last times we all went out to eat together, he was telling one of his famous stories, and I made the comment that someone really should write those stories down. I regret not following up and writing them myself.
Whether or not their stories were written down, these people led amazing lives. Whether 18 years young or 92 years old, the memories of adventure, craziness, love and laughter will endure. Those who experienced it alongside them, and those who heard the tales, will tell the stories again and again. And they will smile and laugh.
When life is over, what happened within that life carries on. Like a relay, the stories are passed from one to the next. Maybe the sweetest goal in life is the simplest. Live a life full of stories that will bring smiles and laughter to everyone who passes them along.
*In loving memory.