As far as social gatherings go, funerals leave something to be desired.

Paul Wong
Aubrey Henretty

Ever been to a funeral? I wouldn”t recommend it. The hosts are always in lousy moods and at the risk of sounding crass the guest of honor never has much to say. The food is lame and the music is worse. Awkward silences abound.

The other guests don”t make things any easier. Some shuffle around in their dress shoes and freshly pressed Funeral Clothes, trying to keep the kids quiet. Others cry. Others wail. Others carry flower arrangements as if they were hydrogen bombs. Most slouch in Reverent Silence.

But there are always a few dissidents. You know, the ones that rarely venture from their protective huddle in the back corner. If any of them made eye contact with you, which they wouldn”t, you”d notice a twinkling of mischief. If you looked fast, you might catch one of them stifling a chuckle.

I know that huddle well. It”s the only place at a funeral where someone can say, “He looks really good for a dead guy” and not get the evil eyeball. It”s where you go when you realize that one of the pallbearers unknowingly sat on a wad of pink bubble gum sometime between the opening prayer and the eulogy and that it still graces the seat of his black dress pants. Here, smiling is allowed. Laughing (quietly) is encouraged.

One reason I”d rather hide in the corner than work the room at a funeral is that I never know what to say to crying people. At finding gracious words of consolation, I am terribly inept. It”s not because I don”t try it”s just that everything comes out wrong. For example, say I finally get up the guts to approach one of the Wailers across the room. When she notices me, she sniffs and composes herself. “I hate funerals,” she chokes, blotting at her eye makeup with a tissue. “Me too,” I say, my brow somberly furrowed. Awkward silence. “Normally, I wouldn”t be caught dead at a ”

Whoops. “I mean ” Her lower lip quivers. I panic. “Um ” A fresh sob pierces the air. Mayday! Mayday! Abort mission! Retreat!

Embarrassed and horrified by my own stupidity, I return posthaste to the corner. I recount the painful attempt at showing compassion. It is met with wide-eyed amusement and discrete snickers. “Are you serious?” someone asks. At last, I can smile again. “Dead serious,” I say.

Many people think this kind of lowbrow humor has no place at funerals. A funeral, they say, is an if-you-know-what”s-good-for-you-you”ll-wipe-that-silly-grin-off-your-face-right-this-minute kind of event. It”s solemn (but never “grave”). Show a little respect and all that. (Hint: Do not refer to the dead person as “the corpse,” “the cadaver” or “the dead person” within earshot of these people. Unless you want them to look at you as if you said you”d just finished beating a kitten to death with a ball peen hammer.)

Another thing you shouldn”t do is sneak a portable cassette player into the coffin beforehand and rig it to play banging noises every few minutes. Especially if the banging noises are accompanied by periodic tortured moaning. The average funeral guest does not think this is a very clever prank. And if anyone finds out you did it, the next funeral you attend may be your own.

Cracking tasteless jokes is not a socially acceptable way to cope with loss. I”ll bet even as you read this, you”re wondering what kind of sick, unfeeling person I must be to make light of others” suffering. You wonder if my flagrant goofiness is just a faade, a defense mechanism I use to hide my desire to join the Wailers for a good yell.

But I truly feel there”s humor to be found in every situation. And what better time for a joke than when you”re forced to spend an hour and a half wearing uncomfortable shoes in a stuffy room with a dead person? I say laugh. After all, you only live once.

In memory of Jessica S.

Aubrey Henretty”s column runs every other Monday. She can be reached via e-mail at ahenrett@umich.edu.

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