During a recent date, the subject of family came up. I joked, “But what do I know about family? Two of my siblings are dead!” With how pale the poor guy went, I briefly worried he died too! People fear their own laughter upon hearing a sensitive joke about a lost loved one. No one wants to seem offensive or unsympathetic. Let me tell you a secret: if I’m making the joke, it’s okay to laugh. Most people relish humor in a morbid situation.
Humor in a morbid situation. That sounds like something everyone could use right now, yet laughing through the pain feels nearly impossible.
When my little brother, Max, passed away, nothing seemed as funny or as fun as it once was. Growing up with him taught me to laugh at myself and inspired me to share comedy with others. Without him, I didn’t know how to laugh with tears in my eyes. We used to spend hours together disclosing the best dumb jokes we learned at school. One of our absolute favorites went, “You got a mirror in your pocket? ‘Cause I can see myself in your pants.” These memories emit bursts of light in moments I feel overtaken by darkness.
I once showed Max one of my all-time favorite pranks: eat the creamy middle out of an Oreo, replace it with toothpaste, and put the cookie back for some unlucky soul to sink their teeth into (by unlucky soul I meant my grandma, we knew how much she loved Oreos). One April Fools’ Day he did this to an entire box. We giggled at my grandma’s expense upon hearing her angrily squeal at the prank. Being diagnosed with depression gave me the same, unanticipated repugnance as biting into a toothpaste-filled Oreo. I expected a cream-filled inside out of life, so getting past the toothpaste-filled disappointment turned out challenging. Some days I still struggle with acceptance and feel buried beneath the weight of the world.
When Max introduced me to pull-string firecrackers, we decided no door would go without a pull-string tied to its doorknob. We cackled throughout the day as our family jumped at loud “pops!” while they opened doors, immediately yelling “Max! Jackie!” The shock my family felt at each popping door is similar to the jolt I feel in the midst of a depressive state when I realize I’ve been unlike myself. In an instant, a rush of emotions take over. After that flood ripples through me, everything goes numb and leaves me feeling as empty as a used firecracker.
During a visit to Chicago, I bought Max and I matching t-shirts with the words “Do these protons make my mass look big?” I still own that nerdy shirt, though it makes me sad when I see it. I cannot seem to get rid of it because it reminds me of a simpler time filled with immense love and joy. Depression is like that. It’s not something you can get rid of; it lingers with you throughout life. You can shove it in a drawer somewhere, but there it sits. Some days you just have to wear it and live in the numbness.
Depression eats whatever you feed it and spits out disappointment, emptiness, and apathy. Lately, if I feel like I’m drowning in my own storm, guessing what crazy theories Max would have had regarding the current state of the world brings me solace. I still sense his love, and I do the best I can as I try to fly with these broken wings. Little by little, I am mending them while laughing through the tears which accompany growing pains.
All we have right now is what we choose to share with one another, so I decided to share bits of personal anecdotes and metaphors with all of you. Although I flounder at times, I usually radiate laughter, spread joy, and provide some light in the dark. I learned that from Max. So you want some humor in this morbid situation? I’m up for the challenge. I’ve got nothing to lose, half of my siblings are already dead anyway.