In the face of grief comes laughter

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Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Not in any way to diminish the weight and importance of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s template for moving through grief, but... would this be an appropriate time for a joke?

“There’s a guy I’ve been reading a lot lately... who says that humor is ego’s natural defense to get you through a tragedy,” said the Rev. Michael Bogar. “The ego uses humor to keep us from completely falling apart.”

On July 13, Michael’s son, Cpl. Jason Bogar, was killed in action in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, along with eight other U.S. soldiers. He was 25.

Jason had, his father said, “an amazing sense of humor,” an irreverence-wrapped generosity of spirit that was evident to everyone he met.

“From the time that he was a little boy, he was a bit of a trickster, the trickster archetype, where he would try to get people laughing and get something going,” Michael said. “And there was never any malice in it... it was a little bit irritating, literally, and then you’d look at him and he’d disarm you with this smile.”

In the midst of intense grief, Michael found himself corresponding with Vanda Mikoloski, a stand-up comic with a metaphysically centered, spiritually-loving-but-gently-biting act that seemed in keeping with Jason’s own brand of humor. “Spiritually incorrect,” she calls it.

Michael, an islander and the minister for the Spiritual Enrichment Center of West Sound, remembers encountering Mikoloski’s work at professional gatherings. Mikoloski recalls receiving an email from him one day shortly after Jason died.

“I have a big email database... and every now and then, someone unsubscribes,” she said. “And he unsubscribed.”

A cordial conversation ensued, during which the funny lady developed an appreciation for Michael’s outlook, especially in light of his current circumstances.

“I thought, he’s a sharp one. He’s a smarty pants. He’s an independent thinker. Some theologians, you get their party line, but you don’t get that they’re analytically rigorous. I liked him immediately,” she said.

“And then I found out he’s lost his son. And I said, ‘Let me leave you alone for awhile.’ And he said, ‘No, I want to keep living.’”

When Mikoloski performs on Bainbridge on Oct. 13, her appearance will benefit the Spiritual Enrichment Center along with an Afghani education fund that was significant to Jason. And her act will reveal a woman whose years of hard living during the heyday of the 1980s L.A. stand-up comedy scene led to the proverbial journey of self discovery.

“It was like rock and roll,” she said of her time in L.A. “I was just hanging with the most interesting and funny and self-destructive crew you could imagine, and I almost killed myself several times on drugs.

She took a break from comedy, returning to her native Northwest to regroup and embark on a “fringy” quest for self through yoga and various flavors of spirituality. But she felt stalled professionally, since comedy was what she believed she did best.

Her brother, who did marketing for the mind-bending, physics-inspired 2004 documentary “What the Bleep Do We Know?” suggested that professional and spiritual fulfillment need not be mutually exclusive. At age 45, back to California she went, with a comedy act centered on the mantra “enlighten up.” Between solo work and a troupe she co-founded with a group of other area comics, she’s never been busier.

Michael Bogar, who began his work in the 1980s as an evangelical minister and moved on to other denominations toward a self-described “maverick journey,” seems to appreciate Mikoloski’s bent as much as he thinks Jason would have. And he’s firm in a belief that humor is a balm, even in the worst times.

“I’ve never been in deeper grief in my life,” he said. “(And humor) really disarms a lot of the grief, as a respite, a respite from the grief. And then you can get back to it.”

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