Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Mongrel Magazine, May 2007

The top 5 funniest thing people said to me when my father died

The recent death of my father was undoubtedly the least funny event of my entire life. It came as a savage shock to me, like a stranger approaching me on the street and punching me in the face. Now I find myself banjaxed with grief: for my father, for my family and for myself. I’m in pain. It’s not physical pain, but it’s every bit as real. The streets are awash with pain. Winos. Beggars. Junkies. Prostitutes. The sick and the destitute. It’s only now I feel it, that I can really see it. Pain is real, and it is brutal, and in the midnight of our pain we are utterly alone.

On a lighter note, my father’s death has prompted some amusing reactions from a variety of people I’ve encountered. Here are the top five funniest things they’ve had to say.

5. the carpet man
The funeral home is not a pleasant experience. Of course, I appreciate people’s kindness. But the repetitive nature of hundreds-upon-hundreds of people offering their sympathy one after another gets very tiring very fast. Then the carpet man arrives. Seriously, this really happened.

Stranger: (to my mother) Sorry for your trouble.
Mother: Thanks, thanks a lot.
Stranger: (to me) Sorry for your trouble.
Me: Thanks a lot.
Stranger: (stands there)
Mother: This is Mr Coen.
Me: Oh right.
Stranger: (stands there)
Mother: You know, from Ballaghadereen.
Me: Oh right.
Stranger: (stands there)
Mother: You know, the carpet man.
Me: (finally remembering) OH RIGHT… the carpet man!
Stranger: (warmly shaking my hand) Best carpets in the West. Sorry for your trouble. (departs)

4. daddy or chocolate?
A fortnight has passed since my father’s death. It’s Christmas Eve. The doorbell rings. A very nice young couple, neighbours of ours, are standing at the door. Wife is carrying a Christmas present. Husband is grinning like an idiot.

Couple: Hello.
Me: Hello.
Husband: Happy Christmas!
Me: Thank you. And you too.
Wife: (solemnly handing me the present) Listen Eoineen, I know this can’t possibly make up for your terrible loss…
Me: (interrupting) Well sure hold on and give us a look at it first…
(I unwrap the present. Its a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray)
Me: Not to worry. It’s the thought that counts.
(really awkward silence)
Husband: Okay. Well, we’ll be getting along. Mind yourself now.
Me: Bye.
(They depart. I close the door. Oh God, why am I such a dick?)

3. “on behalf of the revenue commission…”
Back in the funeral home, its been a while since the carpet man was through. We’re getting bored. My uncle George figures there are about ten candidates standing in this constituency in the forthcoming election. He wonders how many will show up. I guessed three, but we’re only an hour in and four have been through already. They’re easy to spot. Ordinary people offer limp handshakes and quiet sympathy. Politicians speak in booming voices and say their own names a lot. “Pat Murphy TD. Sorry for your troubles. Pat Murphy TD. Sorry for your troubles. Pat Murphy TD…” Right the way up the line. None of the candidates were personally acquainted with my father, that I’m aware. But it’s an election year, so who gives a fuck?

There’s a man at the head of the queue that none of us recognizes. George purses his lips. “Sinn Fein candidate maybe, do you think?” “Nah” I reply. “The suit’s not expensive enough.” Just then the stranger launches into what sounds like a prepared statement. (I should explain here, by the way, that my father was a chartered accountant.) “Mrs Butler” he says. “On behalf of the Revenue Commissioners in Castlebar, I’d like to extend our deepest sympathies to you and your family. We may sometimes have had our differences with your husband, God rest his soul. But we always know him to be kind, courteous and a true gentleman.”

My grandmother is mortified. “I wouldn’t actually be his wife now myself,” she stammers. She points him to where my mother is seated by the casket. “Sorry for your troubles” he offers anyway, and continues on up the line. He gives it another shot. “Mrs Butler. On behalf of the Revenue Commissioners, I wish to to convey our deepest…” Unfortunately, this time, the guy has completely overshot the mark, and is now sympathizing with the undertaker’s wife. “Excuse me” I interrupt, and usher him to where my mother is seated. The guy is utterly unperturbed. He gives the undertaker’s wife a small theatrical bow, and a quick “Sorry for your troubles” and turns solemnly to face my mother. He clears his throat. “Mrs Butler” he begins. “On behalf of the revenue commissioners, I wish to convey…”

2. stoned friend reads waaay too much into shit
Take a newfangled mode of communication, in which you can neither hear nor see the person you’re talking to. Add a friend who smokes more weed than anyone ever should in a million years, toss in one minor miscommunication and shake. What you’ve got is the basis for profound misunderstanding. It’s four or five months after my father’s death. My friend Gillian and I are shooting the breeze on Google Chat when I (innocently) inquire after her boyfriend.

Eoin: how’s steven keepin
Gillian: we just broke up as you surely know well.
sherlock fucking holmes.huh?
Eoin: sorry didn’t realise
Gillian: rootin around for a bit a gossip
Eoin: no genuinely just hadn’t heard
Gillian: well we’re finished anyway
Eoin: sorry to hear
hope yer alright
Gillian: cheers man
life goes on, you know yourself
Eoin: exactly.
listen better get back to work here, kinda busy, but really sorry again about steven.
chin up
Gillian: ah christ eoin, please don’t be like that.
didn’t mean that like it sounded.
come back will ya
Eoin: ?
Gillian: i meant i’m trying not to think about steven. not for one second comparing it to your father dying.
Eoin: !
Gillian: somebody stop me typing
Eoin: i was gonna say “you’re reading too much into things” about fifteen lines back
Gillian: ah fuck you’re really pissed off now, aren’t ya????

1. the chinese restaurant
It’s about a week after my father’s death. I drop into the local Chinese restaurant to pick up a large order. As I’m waiting, I remember that the people in the restaurant sent flowers to the funeral. The food arrives and I pay.

Me: Thanks. Oh, and by the way, thanks very much for the flowers.

The Chinese lady looks puzzled for a second. Then she realises who I am and comes around the counter.

Chinese lady: (hugging me) So sad… So sad… Your father… Very… very… good… customer.