Background: N is an American with part Irish/Norwegian descent. During funerals, he remembers his uncles sharing a compilation of the deceased person’s best jokes and most scandalous stories to garner a few laughs.
N: “When the official funeral ceremony was over, I remember my four great uncles would gather at the reception and start cracking jokes at the dead person’s expense…sort of brutal to be honest. They’d air out all the person’s dirty laundry, but everyone seemed to really enjoy it… I always thought it was super fun as a kid because everyone was laughing… I didn’t understand the profanity much.”
Interviewer: “Did they do this at every funeral?”
N: “Pretty much anyone’s, mostly at each other’s to be honest…maybe because they knew they wouldn’t be offended if someone were cracking jokes over their own deathbed. It sadly got to the point where no one was left to share the jokes…and the tradition sort of died out.”
Interviewer: “Did anyone ever get upset?”
N: “I don’t really remember but I think everyone got pretty used to it. But [the uncles] definitely stayed serious at certain funerals, like if the person were less closely related to the immediate family, if you know what I mean.”
In many western societies, funerals are viewed as a time to mourn and be sorrowful over the passing of a lost loved one. However, others choose to celebrate and reflect upon the life of the deceased by having a bit of fun. Most likely, N’s heritage played a role in the type of traditions involved at funerals. His uncles’ habits of telling jokes at the funeral can also reflect how Irish or Norwegian culture, specifically in America, choose to take a more joyous perspective in the face of mortality. Although someone’s life cycle might come to an end, their impact is remembered and cherished by the family through oral tradition. Notably, N’s uncles refrained from telling the jokes at funerals of people considered outsiders to their immediate family, thus demonstrating how the tradition can be particular to the family as well. While the in-group finds it amusing, they must be cautious of how out-groups perceive the practice.