Humor — it’s a tool which can be used for many purposes. Bullies can make fun of us to torture us and make us feel bad about ourselves. Likewise, we may use self-deprecating humor to deal with our insecurities — we can beat those bullies to the punch. By saying it first ourselves, we confront our fears about our deepest weaknesses and those weaknesses don’t seem so mighty anymore. Or we can use humor just because it’s funny, to make us feel better in general. For me, it’s always been important that I am able to laugh even when really bad things are going on in my life — sometimes even to be able to laugh at those very bad things. Maybe it’s because I’ve had so many bad things happen that it’s simply impossible to put on that “serious” mask that stays on when stuff goes wrong. When bad stuff is happening, that’s just normal life, not a special event — so I have to learn to move normally through it. (I’m not saying I’m great at dealing with bad things necessarily; just that I’ve grown accustomed to certain kinds of bad things as a regular occurrence.)
Shortly after my mom died, I was talking to a coworker who didn’t know my parents were a bit older when I was born, and had probably assumed my mom was very young when she died. I remarked that my mom was 59, to which she responded: “That’s good.” Immediately I smiled, us both knowing she meant “That’s good that your mom wasn’t very young when she died” and not “That’s good that your mom died.” We were able to share a comic moment about the sad event. The best part is I know that’s the kind of thing my mom would have loved. If she were there, she would have laughed at that joke too. She wouldn’t want people walking on egg-shells to be extra faux sensitive, afraid to talk about the subject of death; afraid to talk about the worst things that can happen. She would much rather everyone be like she was; honest, blunt, terse, maybe at times caustic. But not phony.
Of course, situations like this have a fine line of what’s appropriate and what’s not. But if you’re really paying attention, it’s pretty easy not to cross that line — with people you know pretty well, anyway.