Note: The following is a monthly column written by young adult writer Nik Davies about life as a mom, writer, wife, sister, aunt, daughter, friend etc. It will run on the first Monday of each month on Berkshire Family Focus. This month’s column is dedicated to the memory of Dad, Bruce Dean. We’ll love and miss you always but thoughts of you will keep us smiling and laughing for the rest of our lives. Thanks for that!
“Hammy’s dead.” My 5-year old niece sniffed. Hammy Jackson, the serial escape artist and beloved hamster pet of my nieces and nephew was gone. Say it ain’t so! My sad little niece had stopped by to request our presence at the funeral. Yes, you read that right, the funeral. I broke the dreaded news to the family. Our daughter, then-12 seemed devastated as if we had just told her Great Aunt Gert died. Our boys looked at us confused before bursting into laughter.“A funeral for a hamster? Seriously Mom?” Where did we go wrong with those boys?
We walked the half block to my sister’s house with our most somber expressions on our faces. Following us was a long procession of families. Due to a few prison breaks and near misses, Hammy was quite popular in the neighborhood.
We arrived to the backyard to find it a perfect rendition of a funeral parlor. Double rows of chairs, sad organ music, tiki torches burning in mock eternal flames and there, laid to rest in a decked out mini-frosted flakes box was Hammy the hamster. Behind the tiny funeral pyre that rested on an upside down garbage pail was a beautiful picture of the once vibrant, beady-eyed omnivore. He looked so happy in that picture.
We sat in quiet reflection as family and friends arrived. Mom showed up looking like she had actually been crying. She was followed by my sisters, cousins and even a few distant relatives. The backyard was packed and I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I’d been duped and Great Aunt Gert actually had died. I had never witnessed such a huge turnout for a rodent and silently hoped this many people would show up at my funeral.
Soon the music died and my sisters sat down next to me. We eyeballed each other, trying desperately to suppress the psychotic giggles that threatened to bubble up from deep within. It was all just so serious. I sent a silent prayer to Hammy — “Hey Hams, if you could get us through this without doubling over in laughter, I’d really appreciate it.” Needless to say, Hammy didn’t listen. In fact, a wave of giggles spread through the crowd as my brother-in-law stepped out of the house long-faced and decked out from head to toe in black. He walked down the aisle solemnly, shaking hands and humbly receiving condolences for his loss.
One of my sisters hid a giggle behind a sneeze, the other cleared her throat, and I crushed a chuckle with a cough. My husband squeezed my hand in warning. He knew what it was like when my sisters and I got together and he was worried we’d turn this sad event into a fiasco, like we normally did. I shook my laughter off with an admonition that I would do this for my youngest niece who sat in the front row gazing terrified at Hammy’s furry remains.
We were doing well until my brother-in-law, channeling the spirit of Jesse Jackson began to speak. In his best southern Baptist impersonation he delivered a eulogy that brought us to tears … because we were laughing so hard.
“Hammy was like a son to me.” He said with a twang. I wasn’t surprised to hear a giggle, but I was surprised that it came from my 5-year-old niece. “Sadly the Jackson Six will now only be the Jackson Five. Oh Hammy, I’ll miss you brother.” Chuckle … snort. My oldest sister, grandmother of the decedent, had fallen over into my lap, tears streaming down her face, hands covering her mouth. I patted her back in pseudo concern as I dabbed my leaking eyes with tissue. It ain’t easy holding in hysteria. My youngest sister had her face buried in her knees. Body shaking with laughter … err … grief. My husband pinched the bridge of his nose and clenched his lips tight in a vain attempt to suffocate his chuckles. I looked at the crowd, all in various states of laughter suppression. Suddenly a voice called out from somewhere in the back row.
“OH POOR HAMMY! Lord he was too good, just too good!” That was all she wrote. It was the crack that broke the dam, the phrase that crushed our attempts at respect and reverence. The crowd folded. My little niece and her friends were rolling on the grass. My brother-in-law was leaning against the funeral pyre, holding his stomach. I’m surprised that lighting didn’t arch out of the sky and strike us all down.
We did finally put Hammy to rest in a shallow grave behind the garage. The moment the last grain of dirt fell upon the barren mound, my niece shouted, “Hey, does anyone want to play manhunt?” A cheer rose and they dashed off, with not so much as a glance backward.
Dealing with death is most often tough and painful. Not all families can handle it in such a callously joyous way as my crazy family. Although he was greatly loved, Hammy was just a hamster, but there is a message here somewhere. Is it that death is a natural thing and shouldn’t be feared? Maybe. Is it that we shouldn’t take life so seriously that we don’t enjoy, give thanks and celebrate every moment spent with those we love? Perhaps.
For you death may bring with it a spiritual, religious or even a philosophical message but for me it’s quite simple. When that day comes for me to pass from this world into the next, I plan on leaving behind so much joy and happiness that my family and friends remember me with just as much gut busting gladness as was felt for our favorite four-legged friend. I sincerely wish the same for you. Rest in peace Hammy Jackson, you are remembered with love and much, much laughter.