Have you ever lost the ability to laugh? I did.
When Arlyn died, I knew I would never laugh again. After all, my child had taken her own life; she had died by suicide. How could I really laugh, when I felt so empty? How could I let lose and laugh out loud, when I hurt so much? Oh, I've managed to smile sometimes, and the sound of quiet laughter has slipped out of my lips a few times, but they were only superficial gestures: no belly laughs for me.
Then, a few months ago, I flew to Ft. Meade, Maryland, to visit my sister, Teresa, her husband Mac, and my nine-year old niece, Marisa They picked me up at the airport, and then we drove to their home. As we were unloading the car, I noticed a large owl perched on the edge of the carport. He had a wise content expression on his face.
Teresa told me that the owl had shown up several times over the previous week. Marisa said that they were getting so attached to him that she had named him Simon. We tiptoed past the owl as we went into the house; we did not want to disturb Simon and cause him to fly away. Teresa cautioned me to not get too close in case it were to suddenly lunge at me.
The next morning when we went outside, the owl was still there, in broad daylight! He had moved to a different place on the carport, and he looked quite content. For the rest of my visit, every day, we'd check on the owl and marvel at the fact he had picked this house out of the whole neighborhood to claim as his home. We'd also walk out to the car very quietly so we would not frighten him away. I enjoyed checking on the owl almost as much as I enjoyed sightseeing in the area.
Occasionally, we'd would not see Simon on his carport perch, but he was never gone long. If he was gone, I missed him and worried that he might not return. One morning, I excitedly grabbed my camera, almost tripping over my own two feet to get photos of this rare visitor. Even though he had moved to a different location, he was not razzled by my presence as I snuck closer to take his photo. I called to Mac to get his camera, too, but he calmly said he could not find his camera. I could not understand why he did not seem concerned about missing this opportunity for a wonderful up-close photo.
One day, I looked up owls on the Internet to learn more about them; I discovered they eat rats and mice. When I told Teresa about the owl's diet, she smiled and seemed really pleased that he'd taken up residence there. When the day arrived for me to return home, I got up early to check on Simon. He was there, a little farther down on his perch, but just as big as ever.
I lingered, savoring the chance to be so close to him one last time. Then, I quietly slipped out to the car with my luggage and loaded it into the trunk. A few minutes later, I looked up then toward the carport and I saw Teresa walking out of the house, carrying a broom!
Before I knew what was happening, she pulled the broom back behind her and swung it at the owl as hard as she could, knocking the poor helpless bird to the ground. My heart almost jumped out of my blouse, I was so shocked! Teresa is normally a reasonable person, so I could not imagine what had suddenly possessed her to treat this bird so cruelly! Especially right in front of little Marisa.
I wanted to scream at her to stop the madness, but only a loud grunt came out.
Teresa turned to look at me, and then she dropped the broom. She bent down, picked up the wounded bird and ran toward the car with it in her hands. Strangely, she had an eerie grin on her face! What was going on?
By the time Teresa reached the car, I was almost hyperventilating I was so upset. Teresa held Simon up to the window and said "Karyl, this is not a real owl. It's a fake owl that I got to keep the birds away." It took a moment for the truth to sink in, but once I realized she had not beaten a live owl, and that I'd been the butt of a practical joke perpetrated by the whole family for over a week, I laughed so hard that a waterfall of tears spilled down my cheeks.
A while later, after I got control of myself, I realized something that surprised me. That was the first time since Arlyn had died that I had relaxed enough to laugh to the core. And it felt good.
I knew then that I was finally alive again, even though it had taken almost 7 years to reach that point. When someone we love dies, we may feel as if we died, too. Sooner or later, however, if we allow ourselves to process our grief in a healthy way, we will return to life. A true test of when we reach that point may be when we can laugh with every ounce of our being.