My Mother’s Sense of Humor

I miss many things about her. Her wisdom. Her perspective. Our long phone conversations and her stories about her crazy job as a private detective (yes, she was a private detective, which a different story for another day). But most of all, I miss her sense of humor.

I miss her sense of humor because it could be twisted and strange — like mine. I’ll probably never meet anyone that shares our exact blend of self-deprecating cynicism.

Not long before she passed away, we were shopping together in a boutiquey little wine and tchotchke shop when we came across this very odd and direct greeting card that brought us to tears with laughter:

I can’t tell you exactly what it was about the card that we thought was so funny but I laughed louder than I ever laughed in my life. Something about reaching out to someone with a “greeting” card that contained nothing but a depressing fact about yourself. And when you opened it up there was no more copy. Just blank white space.

There were a couple people in the store watching us, which added an element of situational hilarity of it all. We took all of the cards they had in stock, about a half dozen of them, to the cashier and asked even him if he had any more in the back. The guy thought we were nuts but we just kept laughing. One of those deep uncontrollable belly laughs that waters your eyes and makes your stomach muscles ache. A joke between two people that builds on thousands of other jokes — inside jokes and shared experiences — some funny, some not — that transform a joke into a shared understanding. One of those great laughs that you will probably only experience a handful of times in your life.

And what I did not know then but realized soon after was that this was my mom’s last great laugh. You see, within that card there lies a central, existential question that we all struggle with: was that card placed there for us to find or did we run into by happenstance? Are our destinies predetermined or are we floating around aimlessly on this blue gaseous sphere?

The joke lasted for a couple weeks since we actually sent this card to people we knew. And not just anybody. People who we knew would be deeply disturbed by such a random greeting from someone they hadn’t spoken to in a long time. We would call each other to share updates on our victims and discuss their various reactions.

Both family and humor are deeply personal and mean different things to different people. And when I think about my mom, especially in poignant moments like the days leading up to Mother’s Day, I chose to remember the good things. And not just the good things, but the good small things. Things like the laugh we had at this card.

The things we take for granted but make us who we are.