Connie Corcoran Wilson, author of Laughing Through Life and It Came From the 70's, addresses the importance of laughing your way through a stressful time:
"And if I laugh at any mortal thing, 'Tis that I may not weep." (LaBruyere and Beaumarchais)
In 2003 my mother, then 94, began the long slow fade to black that comes for each of us. She was still of sound mind, but she had a series of small strokes which robbed her of the ability to play bridge (her passion), and it was quite clear to me, her youngest daughter, that she was fading fast. In fact, it had become clear to me that the end was near since Thanksgiving.
Later, nursing home personnel told me it was only my son's wedding and the festivities that surrounded it that kept Mom alive six more months. I was hosting a "welcome to the community" party for the bride and groom. They had married in Matamoros and none of our Midwestern friends would be able to attend the ceremony, so a full-on party was planned, a mini-wedding reception, complete with gowns and cakes and flowers.
I carried in various outfits from the nearby shopping mall for mother to try on (over her strenuous objections that she could simply wear an old velour jogging suit I had once given her for Christmas). The preparations to bring her to the party, 60 miles away, for the evening, even though wheelchair-bound, were many and numerous. I even purchased a giant 52" TV screen (the pre-plasma behemoths) that would replay the actual ceremony in a continuous loop. Mom would be able to see her second (of four) grandchildren being married on this large television set, (contingent upon the store being willing to re-deliver the same TV set to my house after the party was over at no additional fee, which they agreed to do.)
I urged my sister to come with me to visit Mom on Mother's Day in the nursing home where she had resided for 5 years (a necessity imposed by her need for constant medical monitoring for her 4-shots-a-day brittle diabetes.) My 4-years-older sister, who could often be as blank as the proverbial fart, said, "Let's wait until her birthday."
My mother's birthday was May 31st.
I remember saying to my completely oblivious older sister, "Kay, she won't make it to May 31st."
And she didn't.
My mother died May 2, 2003 and we buried her on May 4, 2003. I had begun divesting of my businesses, my responsibilities, my very life, in order to be by her side to be able take care of her and, after that, to be able to take care of estate matters when she was gone---something I never really ever believed would actually happen before she hit 100, as my mother was an indomitable force. (My father died in 1986).
I sold my two businesses (Sylvan Learning Center #3301 and the Prometric Testing Center), businesses I had founded, two months to the day before Mom died, on March 2, 2003.
I remember asking her, on the final day of her life, as she received oxygen and faded in and out of consciousness and I held her hand, witnessing her losing the battle that I had always felt quite sure she would not lose until at least the ripe old age of 100, "What was the favorite city on Earth you ever visited?"
She was very weak, almost to the point of being unable to converse, but she was lucid. She looked at me and said, "Anywhere your father was. And Iowa City."
Mom died in Iowa City, where she had moved over some objections from her children at the age of 82, after an entire lifetime spent in the small northeast Iowa town of Independence, a life spent teaching kindergarteners while my father worked in the bank he had founded. She slipped away in the early hours of the morning to join her husband of five decades.
While my father's death had come at a time when I was expecting a baby and had just launched a new business, my mother's death came when I had dropped everything else in my life, primarily to care for her. In the process of doing so, I had severed ties with my entire support network of colleagues and co-workers and customers.
My husband, recently retired, was doing taxes for H&R Block. I was at home, alone, for long hours, in what seemed like a very cold house. I later learned that the furnace was broken; it took me the better part of a week wearing a parka and gloves in the house and seeing my own breath in front of me to convince my husband that there really was something wrong with the furnace. (It turned out that it was only blowing out cold air.)
What could I do to cheer myself up? Depression was one silly millimeter away?
I dug out the humor columns I had written for a local paper in happier times, when I was a young mother, a young teacher, a budding entrepreneur. I added poetry sold, pictures, my lasagna recipe. (Nobody knew what to make of this book, when it was finished, and I imagined it only as a gift for friends and family, like those ubiquitous calendars that you make as gifts at the holiday season.) I fashioned anything I had ever sold into my second book Both Sides Now. (A few of those columns have made their way, again, into Laughing through Life, but much more of the book is new or the product of online blogs for which I have written).
I found that, as I revisited the silly or the ridiculous or the happy times represented in those columns, my mood rose. Eventually, I sent the columns and pictures off to be published. I did not know this at the time, but this marked the beginning of my "writing long" career. A lifetime hobby had turned into a time-consuming second career as a writer and publisher.
Without humor, for me there is no quality of life. And, in life, even in the grimmest of times, as limned recently in the movie "50/50" about a young man battling a life-threatening form of cancer, there can be humor in hardship.
Humor, to me, is as much what I am all about as weeping and gnashing of teeth. I hope I can continue to see the humor in life, even when I am at my lowest and things seem most bleak. Humor will sustain me and lift me up, I hope, even on my own deathbed.
Maybe I'll leave an epitaph that says, "I can't be done yet. I still have checks left!"
And let us not forget these sentiments from someone far more eloquent than me:
"They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses;
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream."
(Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longani)
Connie (Corcoran) Wilson (MS + 30) graduated from the University of Iowa and Western Illinois University, with additional study at Northern Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Chicago. She taught writing at six Iowa/Illinois colleges and has written for five newspapers and seven blogs, including Associated Content (now owned by Yahoo) which named her its 2008 Content Producer of the Year . She is an active, voting member of HWA (Horror Writers Association).
Her stories and interviews with writers like David Morrell, Joe Hill, Kurt Vonnegut, Frederik Pohl and Anne Perry have appeared online and in numerous journals. Her work has won prizes from “Whim’s Place Flash Fiction,” “Writer’s Digest” (Screenplay) and she will have 12 books out by the end of the year. Connie reviewed film and books for the Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa) for 12 years and wrote humor columns and conducted interviews for the (Moline, Illinois) Daily Dispatch and now blogs for 7 blogs, including television reviews and political reporting for Yahoo.
Connie lives in East Moline, Illinois with husband Craig and cat Lucy, and in Chicago, Illinois, where her son, Scott and daughter-in-law Jessica and their two-year-old twins Elise and Ava reside. Her daughter, Stacey, recently graduated from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, as a Music Business graduate.