— Kurt Vonnegut, St. Clement's Episcopal Church, April 19, 1980
Comedian and "Conan" writer Laurie Kilmartin is, at the time of this posting, watching her father pass away. She and her mother and sister are doing all of the things that families often do when a loved one is in their last days: they're helping him to the bathroom, organizing visits with grandchildren, professing their love again and again, reassuring him it's ok to go, watching and waiting, waiting, waiting.
And the one other thing they're doing is laughing.
The reason we know what Kilmartin is going through is because she has been live tweeting the entire experience. And before you tsk-tsk the whole thing as another sad emblem of "the way the world is now," you should go back and look at the posts. If you've ever lost a parent, you will most likely relate. If you have yet to, you may find something that will one day help you cope with your own loss.
Among the myriad tweets are wry observations of the day-to-day business of dealing with a sick parent...
Every day, I set a new goal of not seeing Dad's genitals when I help him off the toilet.
...bittersweet revelations about the promises one makes...
just promised Dad I'd be nice to Mom. Damnit.
...realizations that your political differences will become fond memories...
How I check that I've put Dad's hearing aids in correctly. Whisper "testing, testing, Obama is a Muslim," then look for the thumbs up.
...and painful truths...
Hard to leave Dad's side. I am drawn to him like a moth to a flame (that's about to go out)
To scroll back through Kilmartin's feed is to be drawn into one of the most poignant moments in a person's life and find yourself awestruck by the complexity of emotions at such a time. It is also a master class in how humor heals, how it can shepherd a person, even a whole family, from a life with a father/husband to a life without one.
Hospice says to reassure the loved one that they can go, that we will be ok. So me sobbing "Dad, don't fucking leave me!" was frowned upon.
Ultimately, every tweet Kilmartin sends out seems to be, at its heart, just another way of saying, "I love you, Dad" as loudly as she can, the echo of which has struck a chord with many:
Everyone, head back over to @anylaurie16's feed. Death and hilarity. Wow.
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) February 27, 2014
— Kelly Carlin (@kelly_carlin) February 27, 2014
Laughing and crying at the same time reading the past few days of @anylaurie16 timeline. :) and :(
— Nina L. Diamond (@ninatypewriter) February 27, 2014
Other comedians have found similarly, if not as immediately, poignant ways of dealing with the loss of a parent. In her book of autobiographical essays Lizz Free Or Die, Lizz Winstead writes about a posthumous joke her father played on her and her four siblings. In his 2010 special, You Should Have Told Me, Paul F. Tompkins talks about the death of his mother and the worst thing you can say to someone offering you their condolences at a funeral. And in her recent show, You're Doing Great! A Bold-Faced Lie, New York comedian Sharon Spell recounts the death of both of her parents, just 18 days apart.
But the rawness of Kilmartin's moment-by-moment account puts our perception of comedy to the ultimate test. Certainly, many will feel it inappropriate. But when facing the loss of a parent, the concept of appropriateness is probably the first thing to go out the window.
Me? Not much, just watching someone breathe.
You can follow Laurie Kilmartin on twitter at anylaurie16. But be warned:
Heads up, new followers. After my Dad passes on, I'm going on a dick joke cleanse.
Finally, here's a photo of Kilmartin's parents she tweeted several days ago:
55 years pic.twitter.com/ZcaPVtzGd0
— Laurie Kilmartin (@anylaurie16) February 23, 2014
That thing you're now experiencing is all of the feelings... just go with it.