Hi! My name is Kathy Benjamin and I’m the author of It's Your Funeral!: Plan the Celebration of a Lifetime—Before It's Too Late, on sale August 17, 2021. Funerals might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to laughing and having a great time, but this book aims to change that. By making planning your own funeral into something fun, it takes a lot of the fear out of such a normally serious topic.
Humor isn’t just appropriate when dealing with death, it’s downright necessary. Grief is such a complicated emotional rollercoaster already, without trying to live up to the standards set by our po-faced, death-obsessed Victorian ancestors. (And if they were so great, how come they are all dead now, huh?)
While death and funerals are perhaps the toughest situations to deal with, any hard time can become just that little bit easier when you laugh. So even if you’re not ready to chuckle while planning your own funeral, these tips can be applied to anything else stressful or scary.
Laughing at Death Takes Some of its Power Away
Death is the ultimate bully. Like the mean kid in school, death is here to steal your lunch money, but also kill you, because death has no chill. But just like with a schoolyard bully, laughing in death’s face takes a lot of its power away. Sure, you can’t win against this particular jerk, but you can use laughter to make it less scary. Making jokes at death’s expense will always be funny, because we can all relate and can appreciate the comic absurdity of not being alive anymore.
Humor is an Important Part of Mental Health
When the realization of death hits you, it can be too much, even if it is a far-away hypothetical. And if it’s much more immediate, laughter can be vital. Death, dying, and funerals are too real, real in an in-your-face, all-consuming way. Using humor can create distance between you and the topic, helping you deal with the mental load. It’s why “gallows humor” exists. If it’s a natural instinct for soldiers on the battlefield to crack jokes, you’ll be fine making some droll comments about your own mortality. Or a fart joke. Fart jokes are always funny, even when planning a funeral.
Death and Dying Don’t Just Have to be Depressing
You probably don’t want all of your loved ones to be sad forever after you die, no matter how awesome you know you are. Obviously, the loss of someone is very, very sad, but it’s not possible to stay the same level of sad every minute of every day forever. At some point, people who have lost someone are going to laugh again, and there is no harm in starting ASAP. If you want your loved ones to be able to talk and laugh about you (and maybe even at you a little) once you’re gone, they probably want the same for you. It’s not being disrespectful of someone’s memory to laugh at their funeral. Laughter is an important part of life, and to truly celebrate someone’s life, you need to tell the story of the time they got drunk at a karaoke bar and thought they were Mariah Carey but really sounded like a drowning accordion.
Funerals Don’t Need a Shock Jock
While everyone has a different line that they will not cross, and gallows humor takes some practice before you get the tone just right, laughing about death is not inherently offensive. When planning your own funeral or attending someone else’s, remember that the point of comedy here isn’t to offend. You’re supposed to be using humor to make death seem less scary, not make jokes that are so inappropriate death will walk out in a huff and demand its money back.
Don’t Overdo It
While laughing at and with death is healthy and helpful, at some point, you need to sit with the more negative feelings loss brings up. If you realize you are using humor to keep those painful emotions completely at bay, it might be time to stop joking and think about why. Just like with any coping mechanism, this one can go from beneficial to harmful. Please joke responsibly.
Do you feel a bit better about laughing at death now? Let me know how you have used humor to deal with tough situations. You can find me on Twitter @kathybenjamin. And don’t forget to order It's Your Funeral! to start planning your epic sendoff while having lots of laughs.