Crummy day, huh? Or, maybe, crummy month? Or even crummy year? I’m so sorry. You’ve always been wise beyond your years, so I don’t need to tell you that life is like that sometimes because you know that already, have experienced hard in your life already. But if you’ve opened my letter, sure to be brimming with hilarious things, you must be especially sad. Which is why your mom asked me to write this letter specifically. She knows that laughing is my favorite language and that I have long used humor as a coping mechanism, a crutch and, sometimes, a weapon. I can nearly always find something to laugh about. Even in the darkest seasons of my life I have needed laughter and levity like I need air.
The saddest funeral I ever went to was for our Grandma Rodenhouse. She was the coolest lady; plenty of money but bought these horrible handbags from the coupon section of the Grand Rapids Press and had them monogrammed with a name none of us could bring ourselves to name any of our babies after: Ardene Mildred Rodenhouse. She was love personified. She just was and we loved her so dearly. She used to have us sleep over at her cottage in this terrifying room done up in dark blue with paintings over the bed that gave me shivers. They were painted burlap of Mexican children, which seems innocuous enough, but there was something really weird about them. And their placement in a cottage in Holland, Michigan. But she would put us in her twin beds with the textured coverlets pulled back and would put a chair between us and lightly scratch our backs until we fell asleep. Her, singing hymns in her deep, soft voice and us melting into the scratchy sheets. She was the Godliest woman I ever knew. I miss her still. For all that she was the picture of health, she up and died one day of a massive heart attack and we could not believe it. She was someone we figured would live forever if for no other reason than that no one could picture a life without her. Besides, she took cod liver oil off a spoon every morning from the lazy susan in her kitchen and that had to count for something, you know? But then on this beautiful, sunny, June day, we found ourselves inexplicably filing into church after Papa, him wearing strength and dignity for his beloved mum, to attend her funeral. We sat in those hard pews behind my grandpa Andy, who was the perfect counterpoint to her with his slow timbre and his funny hats and the way he’d pull over to the side of the road so he could measure a dandelion to see if it was a record breaker. He loved Jesus and Grandma I think almost equally. So we sat there in disbelief that she was gone and with her the pork and beef dinners we lived for in the summer after church and the quiet wisdom she exuded out of every pore in her comfy body. Now, there is something you need to know about our Grandma. She had dentures. Aunt Molly knew this after she found them soaking in a glass in her bathroom and relayed the horror of it to us when we were supposed to be asleep. But she didn’t just have dentures, no sir. She had the whitest, biggest dentures I’ve ever seen. She debuted them at Aunt Betsy’s 8th grade graduation. Thank heavens for Papa, who called us each and warned us: my mum got new teeth and they’re kind of big for her, but don’t say anything because she’s really proud of them. Which is why we could only stare, mouth agape when she turned the full power of those porcelain beauties on us. It was the only thing we ever teased her for and only ever without her knowledge because all of us would sooner have died than risk hurting her by telling her we thought maybe the dentist ordered the wrong size. And so we sat in that pew, damp Kleenexes clutched in hands and the best thing I could think to do was to lean over to papa, curl my upper lip so my teeth stuck out and whisper a line from the movie Fletch “must be the ball bearings”. You’d have to know this movie to know why this was funny, but trust me: funny. We both dissolved with silent laughter, feelings at once free of the oppressive sadness and terribly naughty for laughing in church and at a funeral to boot.
Lil, whatever is making you sit on that hard pew at that sad, sad funeral today, I want to lean over and whisper a joke to you to remind you that life isn’t meant to be taken so seriously. If you were here right now, I’d turn the full force of my comedic genius on you and you would be DYING because I’m hilarious. So put this letter down and come over or call me and let me do that because funerals don’t last and neither does sadness. There will be seasons when hurt will curl your body up like a question mark to Father and you will feel breathless and, maybe, hopeless. But that is the crappiest koolaid out there and you must not drink it. Whatever has you in a sad, hard place today will give way. There is always sun after rain. Always. It might rain for days and days and you think you will drown in it, but sun will come. I promise. And when it does you will find that you are wiser and stronger for having weathered the rain. And once the sun comes, you need to take your beautiful self out in it and look for the green things that have grown as a result of the rain. There will always be green things to look for if you are thoughtful and wise and you are both. Hold that green thing up and say, huh there you are! And I promise you will feel better.
My dear Lily O’Connor, you are a great great gift. If you need a laugh today because life is pressing in too hard on you, you just come over and let me tickle your funny bone. Because, even more than laughter, being together is a balm for the wounded heart. Your mom can come too because she’s funny (just not as funny as me) and we will tell you in turns that you are everything you are supposed to be and that Jesus is making a way and we will fix you a cuppa and remind you that sun is coming.
I love you deep.
*This is the second attempt at a letter I was asked to write for my niece, Lily, who is graduating from high school this month. It is part of a series of letters written by people who love her to be opened at key moments in her adult life. My assignment was: a letter to be opened when she needs a laugh.