Playing the Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda Game after an accidental death is as patently unhelpful as playing it after a game of cards. This and more when memory artist Nancy Gershman talks with Nebraska-based stand-up comedian, Bea “Funny” Fiala about her 9 lives, faith in God and finding humor in everyday life. (Incidentally, the “Inc.” in her business name, Bea Funny Inc., stands for “I need comedy.”) Say hi to Bea on her Facebook page.God is my Go-To (not Run-From) Guy Two games one should politely decline to play While waiting for God to reply, help people laugh If you’re not feeling the funny, the funny finds you Death of a teenager means no more worries about drinking, driving or worse Learn from your tragedy so you never get hit by the same one twice There’s a kind of warmth in a glossy photograph Your To Do List
“Cody, my grandson would have been 16 in two days. It’s been three years since I got the call late at night. My daughter was crying horribly, but managed to tell me that Cody had drowned. They came here at 1 in the morning from Iowa, and my husband and I – we tried to comfort them.
What was my way of dealing? I was very upset; angry with God; angry with the world, because nobody wants to lose a child. Still you do what you’ve got to do. Cody’s mother and father made the funeral arrangements. We viewed the body, and all the while I’m hugging, praying, crying. My husband and I prayed on it. We both tried to be there to comfort others. I even wrote a poem they read at Cody’s memorial service.
I prayed with my daughter – but she was pretty angry at God. Gradually she and her husband fell away from church-going altogether. They couldn’t see me still praying and being faithful. But see, God didn’t do this. It was an accident; you can’t blame God for tragedies. The thing I have found when you go through something like this is that God is who I go to. He’s what helps me get through stuff. A lot of time we create our own problems and our own tragedies because we don’t have faith to fall back on. I’ve been through a lot and if it wasn’t for my faith – which is my rock – I just don’t know. It’s horrible to see all these people who loved Cody having such a hard time accepting this.”
“When you lose a child, it’s easy to play the Blame Game. He wouldn’t have drowned if his father had not let him go swimming that day. Well, Cody’s death was really nobody’s fault. He could swim but he was very tired from the night before. A hyperactive boy, he swam halfway out, couldn’t get back, and his friend couldn’t bring him back.
That friend, incidentally, came to the funeral home, and felt really, really bad. I gave him a hug and said, ‘Don’t carry this guilt. You did everything you could. The family is glad you didn’t drown too.’
Then there’s the Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda Game. Of course, it could have been better if this or that happened, but you can’t change the past. I think people who play the Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda game want to find a reason – much like in cards. Oh, if only I played my Ace. But you can’t replay a game of cards; you have to accept what’s happened.
Life is unchangeable. You can change your clothes; you can change your mind but you can’t change the past. Once you’ve done something, you can’t undo it.”
“When Cody died, I expected answers. But God has no way of telling you why something happened. In the moment, you don’t know why it’s happening. In my lifetime, I’ve almost died four times. The first time I was in a severe car accident in my 20s with a blood clot on the brain; the second time I took a drug for a certain condition, had an adverse reaction, got hepatitis, no white count, lots of infections, and miraculously came through and recovered. Twice I had blood clots in my lungs. A normal person would have died.
While I’m waiting for God to reply, I help people laugh. I always relate to my faith in my comedy. People know by the time I’m done with my show I’m a Christian. But I’m not out to make a million dollars. I’m out to make a million people laugh, and feel better. And I have.”
“There were times I’d see Cody with his beautiful curly hair, and remember his last words to me were “I love you.” I have that memory. He was here a few days before he died and I had made plans to make his favorite meal – meatballs – and get him a haircut. I went up to his hometown to do a comedy show, but last minute he had an activity after school and never got to see it. Still, I will always have those times we were together …
Once my husband and I were cleaning out the refrigerator. Cody was 3 or 5 years old. We’d taken everything out of the fridge and he was cleaning the floor with a Swiffer. The next thing I know I hear a little muffled voice yelling, Help! Help me! and I get this thought, and rush over and open the refrigerator and Cody comes sliding out, scared to death. He could have pushed the door open but, well, he didn’t. I took him in my arms and his Papa asked him gently, “Tell me Cody, does the light really go out when we shut the door?” What a way to lighten the moment.
Cody loved my sense of humor. He “got” me. My humor is kind of off the wall. I come up with stuff right off the top of my head and see humor in just about everything. My daughter, on the other hand, doesn’t “get” me. I said to her once, “Why don’t you pray on this? You can see it’s done us a lot of good.” She’d just say, “Oh, MUTH-er!” But in her mind, humor or praying hasn’t done her much good.
At my dad’s funeral, I remember having a hard time finding the funny, but the funny found me. My dad died at 79 of a heart attack. There he was in the coffin; all Dumbo ears and Jimmy Durante nose, but the mortician had really done a nice job, dressing Dad in his Sunday best. Next minute my mother starts harping on how Dad was never a very neat person and how “he would have been a good looking man if he just cleaned up more often.” I couldn’t help myself. I told her, ‘Quit picking on Dad. He’s DEAD! ‘ That’s the one thing everyone remembers now from his funeral.“
“Everyone thinks Bea can handle this. Bea is the strong one. I try not to let my emotions break down in front of people. But at my grandson’s coffin, I blubbered like an idiot. It took me about 3-4 months to really accept his death.
But then I got to thinking – I’m always praying for my grandson to be safe and now he’s in Heaven, the safest place he can be. Nothing can hurt him. I don’t have to worry about driving, drinking, going to Afghanistan. In a way, my prayer was answered. I didn’t ask for him to die. But I know where he is and I know he is safe.”
“How do I remain strong? I try to play with the cards I am dealt. I pray that God will help me through it. If feelings didn’t change and things didn’t get better, I’d still be in my room crying. But I believe you’ve got to try and change things so you’re your particular tragedy never happens again. I hope everyone learns from Cody’s tragedy that if you go out into the water, you better know how to swim. Or at least wear a life jacket. Nebraska is a recreational state after all …
I had to struggle all my life to make things better, yet I don’t go about saying “Poor me” or “Why me?” I say “Why not me?” Have I done something so great in my life that a bad thing is never going to happen? But you can’t do it without faith.
I also learned that you need your friends. When Cody died, I went right back to church for their comfort, love and prayers. You don’t get over a tragedy like this, but with their help, I learned to accept it.
Talk about tragedies, read the Bible … but you know it ends well. It shows that a believer goes to Heaven. It doesn’t say God gave up on you and you all go to hell.”
“The one photo that is closest to my heart is of Cody, my husband and me. We had a really bad winter here last Christmas and Cody had to climb over snowdrifts to get to the front door. He was soaking wet so I gave him one of my sweatshirts and sweatpants. Once when he came back to visit, he was still wearing that sweatshirt and I had on my favorite yellow sweatshirt with the picture of Jesus on it. So we decided to take a picture, with the three of us. I keep that photo displayed upstairs and downstairs on a dresser in our music room, alongside a remembrance candle with a sunflower-covered box, with pictures and cards in it. It’s a way for me to keep a piece of Cody with me all the time.
I can’t put this photo away. At first I used to pass by, and always throw the picture a kiss. I haven’t done that in a long time. Nowadays I just think of things we did together. He was such a joyful boy.
It reminds me that we made my mother a photo album. She lived to 94, and every year we took a picture of her with her birthday cake. I like pictures you can pick up and look at. I know they’re kind of cold. But I feel the warmth and the good feeling I get from it.”
1. Find a photo that depicts an especially fun memory you have of yourself and the youngster who’s passed. If you only can put your hands on a photo of what they were wearing that day (but not of the experience itself), frame the photo anyway and decorate the frame with stickers or tiny embellishments that can stand in for the fun memory. (Look for these stick-on items in any arts & crafts store in the scrapbooking section.)
2. Compose a mental picture of “where my child is now” If you are a person of faith, the yearning to know where your deceased child is now is as natural as worrying where your living child may have wandered off to — in another room, at school, or at Grandma’s. Go ahead and indulge. Think of yourself as a memory decorator whose job is to conjure up the scene, complete with a real setting, props and the outfit your child is wearing. Get a jump start by thinking about what complete freedom might mean to your child in the afterlife. What would they go hog-wild over in this new place?
3. Have a memory artist compose a tangible picture of where your child is now. Sometimes it’s difficult to share a pre-occupying thought like this out of fear of being judged, especially if those who love you don’t share your faith or beliefs as fervently, or at all.
Alternatively, an experienced memory artist will ask you to tell them everything that’s on your mind: a pre-requisite to creating a fully authentic portrait. You’ll be asked what was a typical look or stance of your child; how they would be likely to behave – naughty or nice – right now, if no one was looking. The more photos you can supply and the more you can tell a memory artist about your child’s sense of humor and favorite things (what they loved to eat, wear, collect, etc.), the more compelling the picture.
4. Think beyond the picture frame. Since your artwork is digital, the final deliverable can be any number of items to wear, display or even mail (as thank you cards). The digital file of your artwork can be made into a frame-able print, but also a T-shirt, a photo-purse, or even a blanket. Explore all the options, and the operative word is comfort and joy. Go with whatever makes your heart flutter, whether your memory picture will hang in the kitchen while you cook; keep your lap warm as a blanket or hide beneath your grandson’s graduation robes as an empowering T-shirt.