Funny the World...

THE FUNNY SIDE OF DEATH

May 27, 2000

I must explain to anybody who doesn’t know me that the way I’ve managed to get through various traumas in my life is with humor. It’s one of the few good things I inherited from my father. Even after their divorce, my mother admitted that the one thing she missed about my father was his sense of humor. "Nobody could make me laugh like Al," she said many times. And she’s right. When he was good, he was very, very good.

Death can be very funny. At the periods of my deepest grief, I’ve never cried as much...and never laughed as much. I remember the days after Gilbert’s death. It was my first experience losing someone who was very close to me and I learned that the body won’t let you stay immersed in grief for extended periods of time. His death was sudden and unexpected (one of those surgery "oops"es) and all of us were devastated. Yet, the night of his funeral, we drank all his booze and watched old W.C. Fields movies. He would have loved it.

But not everybody understands. The year prior to his death, he had been the musical director for the revival of a famous operetta. The composer's daughter had been touring the country promoting her late father’s works and she was absolutely thrilled with the production that The Lamplighters did. She had a particular gratitude and fondness for Gilbert for his handling of her father’s music. So when she received word of his death, she flew from Los Angeles to be in San Francisco for the memorial service. She called the house to ask if she might pay a call on the family first.

Gilbert’s family all lived in Oklahoma and they had flown out to make the arrangements, but they were unfamiliar with San Francisco, knew very little of his life there, and knew none of his friends. I moved into the house for two weeks to help them. Our friend Will spent a lot of time with us as well. Will and I did the driving and helped with decisions, based on what we knew Gilbert would have wanted. We were the liaisons between the family and the theatre community which wished to honor Gilbert, etc.

Our emotions were on a roller coaster all week and the day that Ms. K arrived was a particular difficult day. In the morning we took a boat out onto San Francisco Bay to scatter his ashes. We were facing a huge memorial service that evening. We were exhausted, and had been crying for days, but by the time Ms K arrived, we were on the up side of the zig zag of emotions we'd been going through all week. I opened the door, standing there in bare feet because my feet were just tired of so much walking all day. Ms. K stood there, dressed in black, dripping gold and Georgio, wearing her best mourning face. I greeted her and began to take her upstairs, where the family was gathered. Her voice dropped to a hush. "Should I remove my shoes?" she asked. I assured her that would not be necessary.

None of us had really eaten an actual meal since Gilbert died. We'd just been picking at leftovers, and I'd been living on cheap rotgut wine. But because of Ms. K's visit, I spent the afternoon preparing lasagna. This was the first time we were all gathered around the large dining room table and we began to get giddy. Will started telling jokes, and we all joined in. Each joke was more awful than the one before it. Poor Ms. K was obviously appalled, but had too much breeding to say anything. After dinner, she wanted to ride to the memorial service with the family, but we just shoved her in somebody’s tow truck (a friend who is a repo man) and she was whisked off to the theatre. We never heard from her again. I’m sure to this day she tells the story of these terrible unfeeling people who had no respect for this great man's passing . Nothing could be further from the truth. But we learned a lot about the value of humor during this period of grief.

Today I received the draft of the design for the marker for Paul and David’s grave. David has a marker, of course, but we wanted them to be buried together with a joint marker and so we are replacing David’s and substituting a double marker (we’re recycling the old marker and using it to mark pet graves in the back yard. Davis is, after all, the home of recycling).

The design above is pretty close to what it will look like. "Funny the world..." as I explain on the first page of this journal, is something Paul wrote. It’s the first line of the song "Funny," which was one of my favorte Lawsuit songs. After David died, the line "...there's a broken soldier who's going home..." just fit David's death so well, and the line "I feel like I've lost everything that I own," pretty much described how we were feeling.

"fts" is an in joke. We may have the only grave in the cemetery with a joke included, this being a rather staid and proper place. When Walt and I went with Paul’s wife to order the grave plot, the cemetery keeper was looking for where there was a double plot available so he could move David and bury Paul next to him. Audra (Paul’s wife) started musing... "Paul said there was something he wanted on his grave marker...what was it...?" We wanted to go with whatever she wanted, so I was curious about what Paul had said to her. All of a sudden, this "look" came over her face and I knew she had remembered--and that she couldn’t say it in front of the cemetery keeper.

When we got outside, I said "OK--what was it that Paul said," She blushed. "He said he thought it would be perfect to say ‘fuck this shit.’" We agreed that it probably wasn’t such a good idea to put that on a gravestone that was going to outlast all of us. But later when I was speaking with my friend Olivia, she said "Of course you can--just use ‘fts.’" So on the program for the memorial, we included "fts" on the back page and we decided that it was fitting that Paul get his last wish, so "fts" will be engraved in his grave marker.

I suppose there are those who think it’s terrible, but...that was Paul and it just seems fitting. David would have loved it, and it pretty much describes how we feel about having to design a grave marker for two of our sons. And--hey--sometimes you just have to laugh, even in the face of tragedy. Or perhaps especially in the face of tragedy.

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created 5/27/00 by Bev Sykes

 

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