Sunday, April 02, 2006

Grief and Jerry Lewis

My dad used to do a fantastic impression of Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor (1963). It was hilarious. It was probably even funnier in the sixties when a) people were actually familiar with the movie and b) my dad was a scrawny 90 pounds with greasy black hair and thick, black-rimmed glasses. I wish I was in Ottawa right now - I would go over to my mom's house and scan some yearbook or wedding pictures. Basically, just picture the woman with reddish-brown hair instead of blonde, and this is my parents in the sixties:

So last night, Jeremy left with his brother to go feed his girlfriend's dog. Hmm... So many ways to misconstrue that statement, let me try again. So last night, my brother-in-law was going to feed his girlfriend's dog, and Jeremy decided to accompany him. Anyhow, however you want to say it, I found myself home alone last night.

I turned on the TV, and I noticed that The Nutty Professor was playing. I almost scrolled right by at first, because I just assumed it was the remake, but then the year jumped out at me. I used to love that movie, and it would be a perfect diversion for an evening home alone. But for some reason, I hesitated to tune in, and I spent several minutes flipping through the other channels trying to figure out what else I might want to watch. I finally realized that my hesitation was due to the fact that I associate that movie so much with my father.

I decided to watch it. There are always going to be "first time since Dad died" moments, and you just need to press through and live your life. They happen more frequently at first, but you gradually find alternate methods of finding out those random things that you would normally have asked Dad, and eventually, "Dad would have known" becomes more of a whimsical afterthought and less of an immediate, devastating realization.

As soon as Jerry Lewis started to talk, I got choked up. My dad's impressions had been so spot on that I felt like I was watching a recording of him. But then I started to laugh, because it's such a hilarious movie, and before I knew it, I was once again enjoying a movie that had once brought be so much pleasure. In fact, the association with my dad started to become a positive force, and I think I enjoyed it more because of him.

I miss my dad. He still keeps appearing in my dreams, and one of these days, I am going to hire myself a Jungian psychiatrist and get to the root of what my subconscious is trying to tell me. At first, he showed up in my dreams as a resurrected person - ie. his death was an accepted fact, but he was alive again for whatever reason. Recently, however, he has been showing up as the father of my childhood - never having died. I'm not sure what the significance of the shift might be. Two nights ago, I dreamed that my parents and I were helping an inn-keeper build an extension onto his inn, and my father had climbed up into a place that he couldn't get down from, and he couldn't hammer in the nail that he was supposed to put in his corner because it involved bending over a plank, which he couldn't do with his bad knees. But then again, I also dreamed that I was babysitting for Leta while Dooce and Jon were at a conference in Toronto, so I am well aware that my dreams are on the wackier side of wacky and somewhere well on the other side of sane.

All that to say, I'm glad I watched The Nutty Professor last night. People grieve in different ways, and in some bizarre way, I grieved last night by watching a 1963 comedy. At least for me, the process of grief has been a series of well-spaced small breakthroughs like this. I don't think about my dad all the time, and sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't be more broken-hearted about my father's death. But it's something that is always with me, and will always be a part of me. And because it's a part of me, I can't expect my process to be the same as anyone else's - not even those in my immediate family who lived through the same things at the same time. So I honestly don't expect anyone to understand how laughing at Jerry Lewis was a healing moment for me, but then again, this is the internet. If there can be a whole website for people who like to put stuff on their cats, I'm sure it's possible that there is someone out there who grieves at least a little bit like me.


Trish said...

oh my word! i could look at that stuff on my cat website for hours! it's SOOOOOOO funny!

Mollie said...

Stuffonmycat has an RSS feed - I added them to my LJ friends list, as well as which also cracks me up :)

Kate said...

It's funny the things we latch on to from these entries. Stuffonmycat is what made me want to comment, too. Maybe we do that to distract ourselves from the harder things. Anyway, I suppose that's not always a bad things and Stuffonmycat is frickin' hilarious! If you like that, you should check out There's also a calendar and a BOOK!

Christy're said...

You just made me cry a little! After my grandma died I would avoid eating my every-Wednesday-at-grandma's meal of spaghetti with butter and chocolate milk. I finally decided to eat it in college. I thought it would taste somewhat soured because it made me sad but when I camped out in front of the tv, the memories came flooding back and made the meal taste wonderful. So I know what you mean in grieving in small pieces. I wonder if subconsciously we think it's easier to bear when we break it all up.

It's tough to grieve, but it would be even worse if we only retained the grief and none of the love we shared with those who have passed on. I'm grateful for memories that make me laugh though my tears. I have some really funny stories about folks who have passed on and I have to admit that when I can work them into conversation, telling the story with a hearty laugh makes me feel they are alive for a few minutes again. I wonder if this is why old people love to tell stories from long ago. ??

Thanks for the post.