In a school I taught in we used to have a catchphrase to help us through those low moments. You know when you can’t even see the fan because it is so covered in excrement. That phrase was
“Too early for jokes?”
It was a very useful thing to say to someone when they were close to tears having possibly made some monumental fuck up. Yes, the best way forward was to make an inappropriate completely insensitive joke and then ask “too early for jokes?” The correct response from said down person was “it’s never too early *sniff, sob* for jokes” and boom! Things started to get better for them. If they didn’t laugh or reply correctly then you knew that things were bad and only tea, biscuits and hugs would help.
As someone who is socially awkward I loved this approach. It made handling those difficult emotional situations so straightforward both as the upset person or the comforter. We all knew the score and it worked. It really did. Thinking back on it I think it worked because it opened the lines of communication. By being allowed (nay, encouraged by convention!) to say the wrong thing it really took the pressure off: what do I say? Actually just say anything and then ask if it’s too early for jokes. I recommend you try it in your workplace.
Anyway, it’s never too early for jokes.
Unless you tried to kill yourself.
Turns out no one finds that shit funny. Well, not true. I see the humour in it. Even one week ago when I was sat in A&E hugging a sick bowl, wondering if I’d gone too far, I still made jokes. It’s not that I wasn’t scared. I was terrified. I cried. A lot. But I have a dark sense of humour and even at the darkest times I see the ridiculousness in situations. Trouble is, when it comes to suicide, it just isn’t funny. Or maybe we’re just too scared to talk about it? Too scared to say the wrong thing? Too scared of not being serious enough about a really incredibly serious topic. Thing is, I think, that being all hush hush about it gives suicide power. Another secret. More shame. Probably fair to say that someone who tries to take their own life doesn’t need any more shame. They’ve probably got that base covered. I mean, sure, always know your audience but does even talking about suicide have to be so scary? Maybe it does. It is life threatening…I don’t know.
I find it hard now as I want to make stupid jokes about what I did but I can’t. What if people thought I didn’t get what I’d done? Believe me – I get it. But, just in case…best stay quiet.
One of the best and funniest things I read about suicide was on Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, Depression Part Two. It simply and beautifully presents the problem. These cartoons are about the conundrum of trying to tell people that you’re suicidal. I love them and really recommend you read her full post (link in resources section)
It’s never too early for jokes, but, it could be too late.