After a long struggle, we had to go into my mother's hospital room and tell her that nothing more could be done. She didn't go into the hospital expecting to die and she was not ready to go. But she took the news with her characteristic grace. She said her farewells, asked us never to forget her (as if), and paused for a moment. Then Mom lifted an eyebrow, shrugged, and said...
My mother wasn't crude; I didn't get my foul mouth from her. She used profanity sparingly and then only in italics and quotation marks. When she said "shit" on her deathbed, we understood the joke. What she meant was this: "Now, the kind of person who casually uses profanity might be inclined to say 'shit' at a moment like this. But I'm not the kind of person who casually uses profanityand certainly not at a moment like this. But if I were the kind of person who casually used profanity, 'shit' might be the word I would use right now. If I were that kind of person. Which I'm not."
Everyone gathered around her bedmy mother's husband (my son has two fathers and so do I), my sister, my auntknew what Mom wanted: She wanted us to laugh. This woman, so full of life, who wanted so badly to live, having just been told she would not, she was trying to lift our spirits.
A reader writes:
I tended to my leukemia-stricken father for two years prior to his demise. His wife and I joked throughout, especially in the moments after he died and we called the mortuary to take him away. He had had a penchant for giving driving directions even when he was delirious after chemotherapy. I said that even now he was telling the hearse driver to change lanes, the exit was coming up. The ensuing laughter was our appropriate goodbye.
Another returns to the original subject of Gilbert Gottfried:
I think your reader who described his sister's death misses a key point. It is one thing, as he points out, to make "tasteless" jokes about YOUR OWN tragedy, but an entirely different one to make tasteless jokes about someone else's. He and his family were "entitled," so to speak, to do anything and everything to get through that painful situation with as much of their sanity in tact as they could. Americans making jokes about Japan is an entirely different story.