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There is a Thin Line Between Tears of Sorrow and Tears of Joy

Learning to laugh through sorrow brings acceptance

By Brenda MahlerPublished 2 months ago Updated about a month ago 5 min read
Top Story - May 2024
Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash. Modified background by author.

I remember when my mother passed away. After the tears from the initial shock, our family sat in the living room and shared memories. We talked about her love and compassion toward others, the lessons she taught us about honesty, and how she taught us the importance of respecting ourselves and others. Then we started sharing memories that made us smile and eventually, each of us began to relax and tell stories that made us laugh.

  • Once when driving down the freeway, Mom stopped the car because a strange creature was roaming in the middle of the road. When she realized it was a goat with a bucket stuck on his head, she outlined a plan. My brother and I looked skeptically at each other but knew when Mom told us to do something, it had to be done. With the car parked on the side of the road, my brother on her right and I on her left, Mom directed him toward a two-sided fence. When he was cornered, we held him as mom pried the obstruction off his head.
  • Dad recalled the numerous times she spent Saturday mornings at garage sales and called him to bring the truck because her newfound treasure wouldn’t fit in the car.
  • Dad actually giggled when we reminded him of the time she rode the Honda 90 through the shrubs and over the embankment even though she insisted she knew how to drive a motorcycle. Thankfully, there were no physical injuries, just a little damaged pride.
  • My brother turned red from embarrassment as he recalled the time he got in trouble at school, and she escorted him to class the following day. Though it was 20 years earlier, the memory of her wearing her curlers, housecoat, and slippers as she walked through the halls still made him blush, but he didn’t get in trouble again.

We felt guilt — for a moment

When the room eventually grew quiet, I glanced around at my family, and at first, we avoided eye contact. What were we thinking to be laughing and joking when we should be grieving our loss? But then my brother stated the obvious, “It feels good to laugh. It is what Mom would want.” He was right. If she were present, she would have instigated the laughter so why would we stop laughing now that she was gone?

One of Mom’s favorite stories came during a solemn event, her brother Dale’s funeral. Just before the ceremony, the preacher asked her other brother Jerry if Dale was baptized. Jerry responded, “I don’t know. He was pretty old. Did they do that back then?” Mom retold this event with tears streaming down her face.

Finding humor when choosing a casket

By the time we entered the mortuary to choose Mom’s casket, my family had experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. At the mortuary, we realized the reality and absurdity of the situation. Our self-appointed committee: Dad, my brother, his wife, my husband and I became a comedy team. There in the “casket showroom,” we viewed the various models.

The salesman, dressed like a preacher and speaking in hushed tones, led us to the “theme room” where we quickly rejected the “Angels’ Casket” which we read “embodies an angelic sweetness that characterizes those among us who are most special.” The faces of two angels were embossed on the lid. With monotone voices attempting to show respect but cover our contempt, we simply said no. He led us past “Hawaiian Paradise”, “Sunset”, and “Fairway to Heaven”.

We all moved to the next room of “death care products”.

Dad found what he considered a perfect “eternal resting place” for himself. It sported a hardwood exterior with a laminated pine finish. Though we all agreed it was practical and attractive, we also agreed that Mom would feel like Dad had finally trapped her in his wilderness dream.

When we stood in front of a casket made of solid mahogany and lined in velvet for $6,028, my husband reminded us that Mom would drive 10 miles to save a penny a gallon on gasoline, and we acknowledged her disapproval at this expense.

Nick’s wife, Lori, obstructed our view of the adjustable bedding system, and Nick ushered us en masse past the Elvis-inspired collection. Mom loved Elvis but would have haunted us eternally if one of those had been her eternal resting place. In the end, we settled on an appropriate burgundy casket with golden tints — a classic design. We knew Mom would approve of the simple but elegant rose on each corner.

The Bible teaches in Ecclesiastics that there is a time for everything, “A time to cry and a time to laugh.”

Sometimes, these occur simultaneously. We were allowed to feel our sadness when we laughed because until then, we were numb. Laughter made the experience tolerable. I don’t remember a lot of the details of the time Mom lay in the hospital before her death, but I do remember Mom laughing at her age, her handicaps, our waywardness, the hospital routines, and the stories. Mom showed us that without laughter life is hollow. We must laugh at the pain as well as the pleasure.

My daughter, Kat, added this memory of Grandma’s funeral

As my sister Kari and I sat in the private backroom waiting for the funeral to start, it was almost impossible to make small talk. We sat in silence with our cousins and stared blankly at the walls.

After an eternity had passed, Grandpa walked into the room and noticed the sadness and silence. There is a time to laugh, and Grandpa knew that we needed a laugh at this moment more than ever. He stood boldly in front of us and asked us how he looked. We all replied that he looked nice in his funeral attire.

The question that then came out of Grandpa’s mouth caught us all off guard, “Do you think I’m sexy?” We all just stared at him with wide eyes. Then without hesitation, Grandpa started taking off his suit jacket and proclaiming for the whole world to hear, “I’m too sexy for my jacket… too sexy for my jacket…”

We all busted out into uncontrolled laughter in that small room meant for mourning. Grandpa knew that Grandma wouldn’t approve of us being sad and ignored his grief to make us all laugh. Being a part of this family, I learned at an early age that laughter is the best medicine, even if it’s not always in the most appropriate situations.


Read more humor from Brenda Mahler.

Laughter Makes the Tough Times Tolerable

A Survival Strategy for Trauma - Laugh


About the Creator

Brenda Mahler


Writing Lessons




* Lockers Speak: Voices from America's Youth

* Understanding the Power Not Yet shares Kari’s story following a stroke at 33.

* Live a Satisfying Life By Doing it Doggy Style explains how humans can life to the fullest.

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  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

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Comments (11)

  • Margaret Brennanabout a month ago

    Congratulations on your TS status. This was great. I was devastated when my mom died but also knew she would want me to "move on" and get on with my life. I'd been her caregiver for over five years - something that bothered her. She never wanted to be a "burden" to me. I didn't see it that way, but she did. The day she died, my friends, to help me through the night took me out to dinner. My friend Aaron asked: "Now that mom's gone, what the first thing you're going to do." Without thinking, I said, "Go fishing". Mom knew how I loved to fish. As soon as I said those words, I felt a pat on my back. I knew it was mom because I was sitting with my back against the wall so there was no way anyone else could have done that.

  • Each mother is a different story about affection, care and love where various emotions emerge throughout life and especially when they leave us.

  • Anna about a month ago

    Congrats on Top Story!

  • angela hepworthabout a month ago

    Beautiful story, congrats on TS!

  • Caroline Cravenabout a month ago

    I really enjoyed this. My whole family laughs at inappropriate things so this really struck a chord. You wrote this so well. I’m sorry for your loss and wish you all the best.

  • Christy Munsonabout a month ago

    Your story brings me back to so many moments this past year. Congratulations on Top Story, and keep on laughing!

  • Rav Oldejabout a month ago

    This sincere reflection beautifully portrays that delicate balance—the fine line—between grief and joy, showing how laughter can coexist with sorrow. The shared memories and humorous anecdotes not only pay tribute to a beloved mother's character but also highlight a valuable life lesson, as you so eloquently wrote: laughter is the best medicine, even if not always in the most appropriate situations.Thanks for sharing

  • Vicki Lawana Trusselli about a month ago

    I loved your story. When my mom passed in 1988 my brother and I produced a happy service. I wore bright red dress and red shoes. We sang, wrote poetry etc. The theme song was by Elvis, "Mama Loved The Roses". She would have wanted that. She had a fatal heart attack working in her rose garden. To all moms happy mommy day

  • Ameer Bibiabout a month ago

    And congratulations on getting your story named Top Story.

  • Ameer Bibiabout a month ago

    Sharing your mother's departure and getting ready for her funeral was a difficult task. How you mixed memories of laughing and crying is very creative and shows how important it is to find happiness even when we're sad. Thanks for sharing something so personal.

  • Cathy holmesabout a month ago

    Oh my, what a beautiful story. And I have to say, it sounds a lot like my family. Congrats on the TS.

Brenda MahlerWritten by Brenda Mahler

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