I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time but just couldn’t get my thoughts together the way I wanted. That’s not to say I’ve got them the way I want tonight but I just recognize that this is an important topic in the journey of grieving and I wanted to get my thoughts out there.
There have been many studies on the importance of laughter to the point that it is now a specific type of therapy you can participate in. Laughter has been proven to reduce the level of stress hormones and increases the level of health enhancing hormones like endorphins which produces a stronger immune system. Many people look at stress as a threat or challenge. Humor helps us see things more lighthearted making them less threatening. We can therefore handle stress in a way that challenges us rather than bringing us down by threatening us.
I found it interesting to find out that laughter helps you REFRAME. This means looking at a situation through a new lense which makes it not so overwhelming. For those of us with autism, getting overwhelmed is a common occurrance and stress will exacerbate this. If I can lessen my sense of being overwhelmed by laughter then that is a good coping skill to learn.
There is also a link between humor and resilience. Studies done on POWs during the wars showed that those who could see the humor in things were more resilient and more likely to survive. Resilience is very important in caregiving because often you are looking after a loved one for a long long time and this can wear you down.
I like this quote by Kahil Gibran. He says,” The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Perhaps this is why I have laughed more in the last 5 years than in many years before that. So much grieving has been happening over the last years. So much stress, anxiety, fear, worry and being overwhelmed have been my daily companions. They go with me everywhere, taunting me, immobilizing me and bringing me to deep, dark places. But I find that as I laugh my world brightens even if only for a few moments. Merrily Belgum once said, “When you laugh, you get a glimpse of God.” How true that has been in my life. When I laugh, I feel I am close to God and He is taking charge and sending me a breath of fresh air. It says in the bible in Judges 19:6 “Let your heart be merry” and in Proverbs 15:15 He that is of a merry heart has a continual feast. There is much wisdom in these verses. We’ve all heard the quote,” Laughter is the best medicine.”
It’s funny but as I look over the last number of years when they have been some of the hardest years of my life as I looked after my Mom and continue to do so, my ability to laugh at things, even morbid things has risen greatly. It’s like the worse things got, the more I began to laugh. I think I caught onto something that was a life saver for me and still is. Laughter for me is the life jacket snug around my body as I wildly flail around in the roaring waves of the ocean that threaten to engulf me. And I believe that the ability to laugh has been a wonderful gift from God to help me get through a very tough time.
I LOVE to laugh, There is not a day that goes by that Mom and me are laughing at something I or she has said. I laugh over stupid things I do. I laugh over stupid things other people do ( I don’t always let them know I am laughing at them) I laugh over things I find ridiculous on the news. I laugh over posts I see on Facebook. Sometimes I am laughing so hard the tears run down my legs!
Three years ago this April I brought home a new cat. His name is Gus Gus. I am sure he was a gift from God to get me through these hard years. He makes me laugh all the time. I just have to think about him and I start to laugh. I have never had a cat like him. It really makes no sense but for some reason he has come into my life as my Joy Boy. I have never laughed so much over a cat or any animal or person in my life. And why now? As I said, I believe he is perhaps a cat angel sent to bring joy into my bleak days.
The other strange thing that has happened is that my Mom has quite suddenly developed a very keen sense of humor. She is hilarious and has the nurses laughing down at the nursing home. I grew up with her being a very stoic, staunch Mom. You didn’t joke with Mom or play tricks on her like I did with Dad but for some unknown reason in her old age she has become a funny funny lady. I love her sense of humor and laugh at her and with her all the time. She is always coming out with very funny sayings and I just shake my head and laugh till the tears come. The other day, she and I were just talking when suddenly she blurted out, Lorna, I need a face lift! I’m sorry but I wasn’t that sympathetic with her predicament. I laughed till it hurt. She’s 91 in a few days. What does she need with a facelift? I remember at my Dad’s wake it was all very serious of course. My little nephew who was about 5 at the time came up to my brother – his Dad, who was talking to someone. He then proceeded to declare,” You know the guy in the box over there? That’s my Grandpa.! Well, the room broke up with laughter. And it was good. It’s OK to laugh where there’s sadness.. Virginia Woolf said,”The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder. And the famous philosopher Socrates said, “The comic and the tragic lie inseparably close like light and shadow”
Another facet laughter has is it’s ability to bring people together. Mom and I , in my younger years, were not on good terms with each other. There was a lot of discord, a type of love-hate relationship. When Mom came to live with me I must admit I was a little apprehensive and scared about how it would go. I had always said I would NEVER live with my mother. There was much healing that needed to be done and over the course of the 5 years I looked after Mom in my home and still as I continue to see her every day at the nursing home, God blessed our relationship with bountiful healing and restoration. There is a quote by St. Francis de Sales that says, “Laughter is the foundation of reconciliation” I firmly believe that laughter has brought Mom and me much closer together and has helped to heal deep wounds. If Mom died tonight I would have no regrets, only wonderful memories of us laughing together. If amazes me to think that God has used laughter to be such a part of this journey Mom and I are on.
When we are in difficult situations we all have different ways of coping. Some turn to alcohol, some take up jogging, some just flounder as if lost. As I look back over the last 5 or so years, I can now see that laughter has become a coping mechanism for me that I never had before. Laughter just takes the sting out of so much heartache. Laughter allows me to take something so awful and cut it down to size. Laughter gives some control back to me in my life where I do not have a lot of control over things. Laughter allows me to see things in a new light, a less glaring light. Laughter gives me a way to talk about the hard times without overwhelming my friends and family. Laughter brings a sense of purpose into my life when sometimes I don’t see any. Laughter changes the way you look at life around you. I am always now looking for something to laugh at so I can do a post on Facebook. I love to make others laugh even if it is to the expense of myself. If in my sorrow, I can cheer up someone else then life takes on new meaning.
God doesn’t promise sunshine all the time. He is taking me through some pretty fierce storms but He has given me the gift of laughter to help get me through, given my Mom the gift of humor and given me a Joy Boy cat. ( who by the way is sitting right next to me as I type this) What more could I ask for?
To all those who are caregivers and to those who are grieving, laughter may not be your coping mechanism like it is mine but I really feel there is much worth in having a sense of humor in dark times. It really does help. Give it a try. You may be amazed at what may change in your situation just with a little mirth. It’s a wonderful stress buster if nothing else.
As I said above, I can’t get over the fact that my wonderful God, who many people see as a harsh Father, would use laughter to bring relief, restoration, and joy into my life. In moments when I am doubled over in laughter, I get a glimpse in my mind, if only for a moment, of God laughing right along with me. And it just makes me laugh some more!