Boxing with Death

This entry, which first appeared on my previous site five months after my son died, is posted here at the request of a former reader. There are no words, but please know that you have been in my thoughts.

Because he died the weekend before Thanksgiving, we were pummeled by the first of “the firsts” (i.e., the first Thanksgiving without him, the first Christmas without him, the first trip to the Brookfield Zoo without him, etc.) in quick succession — One! Two! Three! Left! Right! Another left! — before we had even risen to our knees from the near-knockout punch delivered by three grim-faced Marines at 5:10 on a gray Monday morning.

Know this: No referee can or will intercede. So raise the gloves; absorb the blows. Fall to the mat; rise again.

We’ve endured five months of firsts now, and we’re still standing. Sometimes we stagger. Sometimes we grip the ropes. But sometimes we deliver our own punches, too. One! Two! Three! Left! Right! Another left! It seems that humor — dark, silly, ribald, sophisticated, Seuss-inspired, or Shakespearean — is our best offense. Laughter has certainly prevented us from remaining down for the count.

It’s too early to say, I suppose, but our sense of humor may, in fact, cause a majority draw in this boxing match between Death and our family. Death has certainly beaten us up, make no mistake. But it won’t beat us. And if I’m right about humor’s role in our ability to stay on our feet during this fight, then it’s a damned shame that laughter, sardonic or otherwise, isn’t more thoroughly endorsed by those involved in the death-ritual business (e.g., funeral directors). A hundred times, nay, a thousand and a hundred, I have thought, Boy-boy would have thought this was hysterical! And he would have. Because it usually is. After all, so much of what we humans say and do — especially what we say and do in times of stress — is funny. Silly. Humorous. Ridiculous. Stupid. Clueless.


Tears are expected, but sometimes laughter feels like the much more appropriate — and the much more restorative, healing, even — response. Laughter mixed with tears works, too. And laughter takes the edge off those times when tears are, in fact, unavoidable.

I suppose I began thinking about all of this because I will celebrate my birthday soon. My first since he died. And then it’s Mother’s Day. The first since he died. And soon after that, summer swim season will begin. The first since….

And perhaps the only way I can make any sense of the days, the months, the years that will follow, that will have the balls to occur even though my son has died, is to remember how he laughed and how he made us laugh.

And to laugh, even if it’s through tears.

4 thoughts on “Boxing with Death

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.