A couple of days after my brother died, my mom, my sister and I were in our living room making arrangements for the wake. We decided to create picture collages of my brother on three huge poster boards. We only had one of three posters finished – it was propped up on a wooden chair in the dining room, facing us as we sat in the living room. My mom was pacing while talking on the phone with one of her friends who was going to lead the funeral. My sister was keeping busy at our coffee table. I sat on our huge green sofa, zoning out, feeling completely emotionless and empty. I was in a state of catatonic shock – occasionally tears would overwhelm me, but I couldn’t yet grasp what they were for.
The dull hum of my brain tuned out my mom’s words as she spoke on the phone. My cloudy eyes stared straight ahead as she paced. I finally caught on to her conversation when she said my name. She was talking about the posters we were making.
“Yup,” she said. “One down, two to go!”
My mouth gaped open. I looked back and forth between her and my sister, wondering if either of them caught what she said. Just as they both noticed the expression on my face, I burst out laughing.
“Oh my God, Mom!” I let out the choppy syllables between my hysterical laughter. “That’s just so fucked up!” I shook my head as tears from giggling filled my eyes.
“Kelly!” My sister screamed at me, her eyebrows cinched together. “Are you kidding me?!” My mom paused from her pacing and looked at me, not knowing if she should laugh or scold me.
“She said it!” I continued laughing, pointing at my mom. “C’mon, Mom! That’s fucked up! Why would you say something like that?!”
She let out a snicker but said something stern to remind me that she was definitely not referring to the two of her children who were still alive and the one who had died. My sister shook her head in disgust before going back to what she was doing.
Somehow in that moment, in that laughter at my brother’s expense, I felt the slightest inkling of freedom from my trauma. I was nineteen and going through one of the worst things a person could experience in a lifetime. I could barely grasp any reasonable emotion. But for some reason, hearing my mom say that phrase and taking it completely out of context made me relax. I didn’t care that they weren’t amused with my sick sense of humor. I could hear my brother cracking up alongside me. I could see his wide smile break out across his face as his eyes squinted into slits, just like mine did when I laughed. I could see his enormous paw of a hand clutching at his chest as he laughed at both the joke and the simple amusement he felt for his youngest sister.
I felt him next to me, laughing at my dark sense of humor in a desperate attempt to heal. In that moment, he didn’t feel so far away, so past tense. He was right there, the victim to another one of my jokes. I didn’t care that they didn’t find it funny, because he did.