Matthew sat in his seat at the funeral parlor rapidly swinging his feet, watching them become a black blur. He rarely visited Uncle George, but he remembered how his beady little eyes would disappear when he laughed, and how Uncle George enjoyed finding quarters behind children’s ears. Bored with watching his feet, he sat and stared as people stood in front of the casket, crying. The organ played an eerie song that sent cold chills through his little body.
Two plump ladies sat in front of him, gossiping about everyone else in the room.
“He literally died laughing.” One said.
The other put her hand over her mouth and gasped. “That’s terrible.”
“I’ll miss his boisterous laughter.”
“Georgie always enjoyed a good laugh and to go that way.” She gasped again.
Matthew’s mother came and sat beside him. “The service is starting. Sit up straight and don’t squirm.”
Sitting in a daze, Matthew kept seeing Uncle George’s beady, little eyes getting smaller and smaller as he laughed harder and harder until he fell to the floor.
“Come on dear it’s time to follow everyone out.” Matthew’s mother held his chubby little hand as they walked past the casket. Matthew stood on his tiptoes trying to see what a man that had died laughing looked like. He only caught a glimpse of Uncle George’s round belly and a pair hands folded on top.
On the ride home, Matthew gazed out the car window. His six-year-old mind was overrun with speculation as he wondered what could have possibly been so funny that it killed Uncle George.
The next weekend was his cousin’s birthday party. Matthew’s mother hoped a party might bring him out of his dark mood. Matthew was such an outgoing child. He loved playing with other children and entertaining them with his antics, so for him to act solemnly was out of character.
“I don’t know what to do with him, Tina? He refuses to watch cartoons, and whenever his dad and I laugh he cries, covers his ears, and hides under his bed. I’m afraid the funeral was too scary for him,” she whispered to her sister.
“I’m sure it’s just a phase,” Tina whispered, patting her sister back. “It’s time for the clown maybe that will cheer him up.”
When the clown came out, he tripped over his own enormous red shoes, and all the children began to giggle-- except Matthew. He raced into the house covering his ears.
His mother followed on his heels, “Matthew, what’s wrong?” She reached out caught him by the arm and comforted him as he trembled and sobbed. “Baby, what’s wrong. You’ve got to tell me what’s bothering you.”
He slowly raised his head and looked at her with wide frightened eyes. His eyelashes wear matted with tears, and he was unable to speak.
“I’ll take you home, and we’ll talk about it when you’ve calmed down.” She picked him up and carried him to the car, waving Tina over to her. “Something is really bothering him, so I’m taking him home. I’ll call you later.” She waved as they drove away.
When they got home, Matthew went into his bedroom and crawled under the bed. His mother coaxed him out with some ice cream and attempted talking to him again. “Can you tell mommy what’s bothering you?”
Matthew hesitated, rubbed his eyes, and stared into his bowel. “What was so funny?”
Mom tipped her head to look at his little face. “I’m not sure what you mean.” She held his chin and lifted his face. His blue eyes were welling up with tears.
“What was so funny that Uncle George died laughing?” He lowered his head as tears dripped into his bowl.
“Matthew, what makes you think he died laughing?” She walked over to him and wiped the tears from his cheeks with her thumbs.
“That’s what I heard a lady say.” He squished his ice cream into a liquid with his spoon.
“Baby, he didn’t die of laughing. He was laughing while eating and that caused him to choke, but laughing doesn’t kill you.” She held him firmly against her, kissing him on top of the head. “Is that what has been bothering you, baby? You were afraid to laugh and have fun?” He shook his head yes and held onto her tighter. “You don’t have anything to worry about. No one has ever actually died of laughing.”
She picked Matthew up, swung him through the air, and tickled his belly.
“See, your fine, sweetie.”
The next morning they went to visit Uncle George’s final resting place. As his mother placed flowers on the grave, Matthew strolled up and pretended to take a quarter from behind his ear. “Here, Uncle George, You forgot one.” He gently placed the quarter on the headstone.