July 4, 2012

A Terrible Story of Grief, Inappropriate Laughter, and Sophie Mirabella

By now most of you will have seen the footage of Simon Sheikh collapsing at the Q&A desk as Sophie Mirabella looks on in disgust. (If not, you will find it here.) By now, many of you will have judged Sophie Mirabella and expressed your own disgust at her reaction.

Well, I watched the footage yesterday, four separate times, and I'm not proud at all of my reaction, either.

Because do you know what I did when I watched the video?

I laughed. Every single time.

I didn't laugh because I found it funny. It's not funny. I have fainted, and it's the most horrible feeling. I've also been on television several times, and the idea of fainting on live TV is absolutely horrendous. I laughed because that's what I always do when I'm nervous or feeling uncomfortable. I can't help it. It's an instinctive reaction.

Before you judge me, let me reassure you - I'm not one of those people who stand by and do nothing when someone needs assistance. I have called for an ambulance on three different occasions when I've seen strangers in trouble. I've assisted elderly people who've fallen in the street. I've helped get kids out of an overturned car (truly - I'm starting to sound like Tom Cruise here). But I also have a terrible problem with inappropriate reactions.

Take, for example, a memorial service for my late sister. She was a psychologist of some repute, and my parents set up a university scholarship in her honor after she died. At the ceremony to mark the establishment of the scholarship, I became completely distracted by the minor twitching of the eye of one of the speakers. Sitting in the very front row of the university hall, I began to laugh uncontrollably. It was a matter of months since my sister's death, the speech was deeply moving, and I was laughing myself stupid. My shoulders shook and tears began to leak from my eyes.

Matters rapidly became worse. The woman sitting behind me assumed (naturally) that I was grief stricken and crying, and laid a hand soothingly on my shoulder. This did me in. I was overcome with guilt, which made me even more uncomfortable, which made me laugh even more. I considered leaving the room but didn't want to disrespect the speaker even further. So I grabbed a handful of tissues, buried my face in them, and conntinued to heave until the proceedings drew to a close.

So the moral of the story is this: don't judge people on their reactions to emotive situations. It doesn't mean they're bad or unfeeling, it just means they're uncomfortable and human.

And if you ever see me laughing in a sad situation, do not lay your kind hand on my shoulder. Just pass me the tissues and let me be.

16 comments:

  1. Brilliant. I have done something similar. And I didn't judge Sophie M - she had no clue what was going on other than someone who hated her politics was apparently trying to lie on her on live TV. . While I hope I would not react that way, I am a firm believer in the old 'walk a mile in someone else's shoes' before you judge

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  2. When I first saw the footage of Sophie I was disgusted. I have since wondered if I was too harsh. I'm not sure how I would react in that situation. I might perhaps look stunned and remain silent for a little bit or ( most likely!) I might scream! I would like to think I would not recoil in horror as she did. I would very much like to think that though I suppose I don't really know.

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  3. One of my girlfriends has that same laughing reaction. It took me a while to understand it. I remember when I was really new on my P's I completely stuffed up a reverse park and nearly crashed into another car and all she did was laugh.

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  4. My sister and I have a terrible thing with crying in public.When we are in a situation where we are both crying our eyes out,if we dare look at eachother we burst out laughing.Just cant stop it.So there we are laughing and crying at the same time.Can happen in really inappropriate situations.Family think it is terrible but it cant be helped.All I can do to try and stop it is while I am in a state of distress I have to say to myself over and over again...look away look away.x

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  5. Rachel from Redcliffe StyleJanuary 13, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    A great and timely post. I saw the footage yesterday and I hope I would have reacted better in the same situation, but how would I know? I get the giggles too, at least Mirabella didn't get the giggles. Rachel

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  6. Great post! I don't laugh inappropriately, though I do get it. I do cry inappropriately though- or rather, at the drop of a hat. I'm the sort that cries at TV ads (which is why I mainly now watch the ABC). I will be sobbing on the hour during the Olympics. I have even been known to cry in Coles if the song "Hello" comes on the Muzak and I start thinking about that brave blind black girl who Lionel Richie falls in love with in the film clip.
    Worst of all, I cry with patients. As a psychologist I'm meant to be cool, dispassionate, professional (your sister was, I bet) and yet after almost 20 years in the field I STILL lose it when a client tells me something a bit unfortunate. Given they are not seeing me because their life is all roses, this happens quite a bit. I have now developed a technique where I blink furiously instead- probably a bit like that woman who made you laugh. We must never be together in my office. xx

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  7. I too am an inappropriate crier. I am absolutely brought undone by small children singing in groups. Which means I must avoid all choirs and Qantas ads.

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  8. I cried when the kids sing the national anthem. Moral? Avoid school assemblies at all cost

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  9. Thank you! I also laugh at funerals and it's so embarrassing. Glad I'm not the only one and we can all be inappropriate together.

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  10. Wonderful darling. An old boyfriend of mine got the giggles at his grandmother's memorial service. I had to take him outside. Trez embarassment. Happens to the best of us! x

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  11. Oh thank goodness for this post Kerri! I laughed too and was horrified at myself for doing do! At least I was not alone...

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  12. Can't I even give you a hug, Kerri ? You know I love you, don't you ? :-) Just don't tell The Architect......

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  13. I'm almost the opposite and will cry for complete strangers, as if it's some personal loss for me!


    PS. I saw the clip and kinda wondered if SM was just in shock...

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  14. Man! I nearly forgot this but when I was 11 and my Buba died overnight, (as you would well know) the proceedings happen lightning-fast. So, next day at my first ever funeral, when faced with a plain wooden box, in a strange room, all these people I didn't know and a bearded dude in black robes wailing in tongues- I also had the overwhelming urge to laugh myself stupid. I think I left finger-grip marks in my own arm and my brother's. The entire absurdity of the situation just took me over and culminated in that. It hasn't happened that much since. That I know of. :/

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  15. You are definitely not alone! My inappropriate laughing started in primary school where I would get the giggles during the Remembrance Day, 'minute of silence' and I would be escorted out of the room. Years later, I worked in the funeral industry and on many occasions found myself standing in front of the coffin, trying to think of something completely irrelevant to stop myself from getting the 'nervous giggle'. You can imagine how that would have gone down. On the flip side, my sister and I can quite often get into a laughing fit over something really funny and then both of us burst into tears?! It takes all sorts! Great post!

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  16. I ALSO wet pants laughing when I saw it! Can totally relate to inappropriate laughter Kerri!

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