Death. Dying. Grief.
That’s my professional playlist— I’m a death educator. I help others deal with loss. If I was a Dayton resident, I probably would be on a crisis intervention team assisting the community with its recent tragedies. My only connection to Dayton is the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, where I’ve presented numerous times.
Regardless of the topic, I’m always asked the same question. “You know, that thanatologist-humorist thing is weird. How are death and humor related?”
Death and humor remind us to appreciate the fluidity, the fleeting nature of life. They both help us gain something critical to coping with change.
Perspective. Death is life’s biggest dope slap. Its companion, grief, will hunt you down, bite you in the psychic rump, and leave a lasting scar. Grief reminds us that what’s truly precious, our loved ones, will not be here forever.
Perspective. Humor is life’s daily ointment. A truth-teller, like Erma Bombeck, could apply humor to everyday struggles and provide an invaluable tool for navigating life.
Perspective. Erma also had a Yoda-like quality and understood that life is not a series of rigid black-and-white dichotomies. There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.
The Dayton community is on the dark side of the thin line. And they will be there for some time because their grief is compounded by the answerless question, “Why?” There’s nothing that we can say that will make sense of mindless actions. We also can’t stop their suffering. And we probably shouldn’t attempt to do either. But, we’re not helpless bystanders. We can be travel companions to the survivors as they stand still, straddle or cross the thin line. Regardless of how they navigate their grief journey, they can take solace knowing that they will not be alone.
And when they are ready, we will also be there to share a laugh.
— Mark Shatz
Dr. Mark Shatz is the co-author of a top-selling humor-writing book, Comedy Writing Secrets (third edition). As an award-winning professor of psychology at Ohio University-Zanesville, he teaches humor writing and conducts research on the benefits of humor. Mark is a popular public speaker with extensive experience working with writers, including presentations at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference.