As Daddy’s girls, she and her twin practically cried themselves dry after their father’s death … until she became a parent herself. This and more when memory artist Nancy Gershman talks with Chicago native and comedienne Rashida Lucas. Rashida has written comedy sketches, acted in the short film “A Man’s Gotta Do” and hosts “The Laugh & Tears Show” internet radio show. In the forthcoming documentary “Simply Comedians,” Rashida and other upcoming female comedians address the kinds of challenges they face on the comedy circuit. Follow Rashida on Twitter.
Twins will cry themselves dry from mirrored sadness A party atmosphere in your comings and goings cushions sad memory Play songs or repeat sayings that take you back to a certain year and moment A bad feeling or repeating song in one twin echoes in the other The ideal time to apologize is when people have forgotten your offense Dead souls tend to signal their arrival and departures when our backs are turned Think of a funeral program as a point of pride and crib sheet Your To Do Sheet
“My mom Kathi died of lung cancer when I was 27. But I was 14 when my father Luke died. My parents had split up and he had moved to California where his family was. At the time he was doing over the road truck driving, passing through the Arizona mountains, when his tractor trailer jackknifed and exploded. I heard what happened from my mother. My twin sister, Dalilia and I were sitting upstairs watching “Martin” when Mom came in the room. My grandmother followed her in and turned the TV down and said, “I have some bad news.” We just broke down crying. We were 14 at the time.
My twin and I were really, really close. Different personalities but with many of the same mannerisms. Both of us cried really hard. My sister and I cried so much before the memorial service, that when it was time for the eulogies, we couldn’t even cry no more!
We were Daddy’s girls. We’d stick up for our father. And when my menstrual cycle started in a bowling alley, I went to my father first. The crazy thing about that was not so much that I went to my father first but that I didn’t know menstruation lasted only a couple of days a month. I remember asking my mom: “How do women stay alive after they start their periods? Don’t they bleed to death? When people get shot and stabbed, they bleeding to death.” That cracked her up.
I believe after my father’s death, we built up a certain type of numbness because after that I could go to other people’s funerals, and I got to the point I’d feel the crying start in my chest and stomach. But then I’d be saying to myself, “Are you serious? You can’t cry?” but there would be no waterworks at all. After my mother passed, it got worse.
Personally, I’m not a crier. If I feel crying coming on, I’ll stop it. I know it’s not healthy but I’ll cry on the inside. I may cry a little more than Dalila, my twin; I’m the more aggressive, tough one.
Since my mom passed away I probably only cried two or three times thinking about her. Dalila and I would get in trouble because we would hide Mom’s cigarettes! When we were teenagers, we took her cigarette butts that were in the ashtray, and lit them on the stove. We inhaled and exhaled and then got into trouble because we weren’t smart enough to let the smell out of the house! Our punishment was my father sending us to the store to buy a new pack of cigarettes. He made us sit down and told us we was to smoke the whole pack, saying “now y’all want to be cool, you’re going to smoke another one, then another one, then another one …”
See, when I lost the two closest people in my life, nothing else hurt me after that. I was almost murdered: beaten with padlocks. I was in a car accident, where my eyes busted open. I didn’t cry at that. Things would hurt, but I just didn’t cry.
I cried when I had my second daughter. She has had a lot of medical issues. We almost lost her a couple of times.”
“My father’s family has this tradition where everybody gets cremated. The logic is that if you have an insurance policy, why spend all that money burying someone if you can put the money towards throwing a huge party? At these parties, you don’t hear no sobbing. Everybody at the party – they’re sitting around laughing, remembering the good stuff and fun moments. Father himself was a clown and the life of any party. People were always asking “Is Larry gonna be there? If he’s gonna be there, I’m comin’!”
A party like that helps with the grieving process. You stay kind of down if people are constantly crying.
I don’t think I’m really a griever. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing or whether it has to do with how I was raised but our house was always full of happiness, hugs and kisses, and “love you!” before you went out the door. From the moment you entered until you left – it was always happy moments. Even if somebody was sad, we could always change that into something positive.”
“Even though we’re the same age, me and my twin dealt with the deaths of our mother and father exactly the same. But I think having a twin probably helped me deal with it because I always had somebody. I was never alone. In fact, I’ve never been alone in my entire life. Delila and I slept in the same room until we was 18 and I moved out.
What I will say is that my mother – this used to freak her out but she really thought it was weird and cool – when one of us would be downstairs, the other would be humming something that always turned out to be the exact same song.
When I was beat in the head with padlocks and my mom received the phone call that I was being taken to the hospital by ambulance, my sister started complaining about a really bad headache … out of nowhere.
Both of us, we’d always have this feeling when something was not right or definitely when there’d be something wrong. My father had a dream that he was dead in a traffic accident two weeks before his death … “
“I would suggest that people put their pride to the side. If you need to apologize or if you need to forgive somebody – they’re probably not even thinking about it anymore. And it has to be worse when somebody passes away and somebody meant to hurry and say something, but now it’s too late.
I’m glad I said certain things before my father passed. One of the reasons he moved to California was that he tried to kill my mother in her sleep after she said she wanted a divorce. Some people just can’t deal with that kind of hurt: the battle over the kids.
I was the only one in the family who witnessed it happening. At first I was hearing it in my bed, and I was stuck there, my heart beating fast. I ran into the hallway, before my father was going to flip mama over the bannisters. I saw something in his eyes – like someone possessed. He looked at me and stopped and looked at her like he didn’t even know what’s going on. He left before the police could get there.
After he moved away, he started calling my mother and apologized. I couldn’t believe it! They were on the phone like it never even happened. I heard her tell my father, “I forgave you already. Now call your kids. If you need to call collect, you can.”
That’s when I knew that if my mother can forgive him, I know I can.”
“I sometimes feel a cool breeze. I feel like it’s my mother and father, watching over me. It happens every blue moon. I’ll think, “Where’d that come from? I’m not even near any window. And it’s always when my back is turned.
In my dreams, I hear my mother cussing at me: her mouth was bananas! She was always yelling. I would think, Do you know how to talk??? Yeah, she still does that, only now it’s in my dreams. Last year, I had a dream about her, where she was with me at her funeral. She had to be maybe 30 at the most and I was about 11. She was looking young, nice-looking and we were seated in the second pew. When it was time to go up to the casket, it was the exact same casket that was at her funeral except her dead self was looking real young and vibrant. I prayed so much that night … “
“Obituaries are really good – they talk about things you didn’t know about a person. Like for instance, the kids that person had which you didn’t know about. Wait a minute – he only had three kids. Why are there three other kids mentioned up in here?
Usually the people who write the obituary is a spouse, or somebody real close. Even though you’re not trying to hurt the person they’re with now, at the same time it’s not fair for the kids of the person they were with to be left out of something so special as an obituary. It’s acknowledgement. People keep obituaries around forever – some people frame them or put them in picture albums. I still have a lot of copies of my mother’s obituary on our mantle piece with other pictures. It’s hard to let it go – it’s the program to her funeral – kind of like your kid’s first performance. You keep the program.
Yeah, I might pick it up and read it. When I look at it that day, I’ll be thinking, Oh let me read me about their life again. Yeah, it sometimes looks like I’m studying for an exam. Who they were born to; what high school they went to; how many years they worked at this one company; what degrees they got. These are all special moments. Like, I didn’t know she was in the marines! All the stuff you didn’t know.”
“We have thousands of picture albums and they don’t make me sad at all. My memories, though, are more to do with songs. I grew up in a musically-inclined family. On my father’s side, he liked Rick James, Anita Baker, Phyllis Hyman, Luther Van Dross, George Benson. There’d be reggae music blasting while dad was cooking and cleaning up. I had cousins who’d play in bands. We was listening to music all the time. So songs are always taking me to a certain year and moment.
One of the great things about being at my grandmother’s house until our parents picked us up was sitting with my twin sister and my brother at the table, sitting there yakking. Grandma didn’t have a lot of patience. She’d beg us just to be quiet for a few minutes. “You all sound like a bunch of bagpipes.” We had to be quiet but we couldn’t help ourselves and would whisper, ‘bagpipes! bagpipes!’ until we made her crazy with our giggling.”
Do you archive funeral programs, or just the ones you’ve worked on? They can be eclectic things: part resume, part yearbook and part mythology. While of deep personal interest to you, the question remains whether the roll call of eulogizers, performed hymns, prayers and the scattered photographs of the deceased will be enough to engage future generations.
What many families are doing now is putting the “narrative” into the hands of a storytelling memory artist. In their capable hands, the anecdotes and family lore you carry in your heads can be tapped by the memory artist to either construct a life review photomontage or to reconstruct a memory from scratch as a real-looking photograph — no mean feat for those unfamiliar with the magic of Photoshop.