Friday, October 11, 2019

GOOD GRIEF, Recognize the Humor

Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation

Laugh Alone or with Others

When the woes of existence beset us, we urgently seek comic relief. The more emotions we invest in a subject, the greater it’s potential for guffaws.
                             — Patch Adams, MD

     There is nothing funny about your journey through grief and loss — or is there?

Humor is not something you seek out when you are going through grief and loss. However, it is ever present waiting to be invited back into your life. Humor pushed its way into my healing journey early and has eased my heart’s pain. Only you know when the time is right to embrace humor again and experience it’s healing power.

At the last viewing I attended, I was standing apart from others in the back of the funeral parlor, observing everyone. I saw the grieving widow bravely standing next to the coffin, dressed in black with sadness and grief evident on her face, her eyes staring straight ahead, and her hands trembling. The smallest thing set off a crying spell for all to witness. Someone placed a hand on her shoulder for comfort and another put tissues in her hand. I looked around and saw friends, family, and others who came to support her anxious, yet wary about how to help.

What else did I see? Some of those who came were also crying; some were stoic and keeping a stiff upper lip, while others were smiling in conversation and even sharing a laugh or two together. They were remembering the departed person in relation to a humorous event in which there was much shared laughter — an event I too remembered and smiled.

No, they were not being disrespectful. They were sharing fond memories of their time with the departed friend. They were also using humor and sometimes laughter as a coping mechanism to deal with the situation, to ease their discomfort.

You, too, have these happy, laughable shared memories and need some relief from the overwhelming emotions of grief and loss, but are unsure what to do.

What is humor? How can it help during times of grief and loss?

     Humor is a positive emotion that can diffuse the many negative emotions you are experiencing — great for stress reduction. According to many, humor is good medicine. Humor therapy has been used as a coping mechanism to help deal with life’s hardships.

Studies have shown benefits of laughter include:
   improving oxygenation to the brain,
   relieving tension in the muscles,
   creating a sense of peace.

Seeing the humor in life sometimes makes the most sense to us. Laughter makes you smile, and those around you are infected with it.

I remember my husband and I sitting downstairs in the living room one day. We heard my daughter laughing so hard upstairs that we just looked at each other and started laughing too.

No doubt you have laughed before and are familiar with the joy it brings. Can you remember the last time you laughed until your cheeks hurt and tears flowed down your face? Were you alone in your laughter? That’s okay. Or, were you with someone? That’s even better — shared laughter is awesome.

Relax and enjoy a good laugh now and again —what a relief it is!

     The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient amused while nature heals the disease.
                                                                 — Voltaire

     During the healing process you may ask yourself this question: “Did I share laughter and humor with my loved one?”

If the answer is yes, then why not use memories of shared laughter to heal? Remembering shared times of laughter brings a smile to your face. It feels good.

I have many memories of shared laughter with my husband. Each time I recall one, I see his smiling face and hear the laughter — his, mine, and sometimes my daughter’s. A memory such as this can be triggered by intentionally recalling a shared event or upon seeing a picture, words, or something else, related to such a memory.

     My daughter saw a stuffed animal in the store; its hair was peaked at the top of its head. This was a humor-event-trigger for us that caused us to break out with laughter. Why? This was the way my husband’s hair looked in the morning when he got up. His hair would be plastered down on the sides and straight up in the middle: thus, we called him “Freddy the Fin.”

Such precious memories make me cry sometimes, as they can no longer happen in real-time. But, that’s OK. Sadness and happiness can and do coexist.

Do you have such memories that make you both laugh and cry? Share these memories; write them down — enjoy those precious moments again and again!

Humor often relies on the difference between how things are and how they should be. It helps us gain perspective and can play a significant role in the journey through grief and loss — perhaps the one thing that helps you through a rough day.

New things that make you laugh can happen to you during your time of grieving. Both my daughter and I laughed at the car breakdown situation previously described and felt relief of tensions. We rolled our eyes and looked heavenward, saying: “Are you kidding me?” as if talking with my husband, whom we could also picture joining us in our laughter…as we sat helpless in a car that wouldn’t start with rain pouring down outside, thunder cracking, and lightening zapping through the night sky.

Burned into our brains, it’s a recollection we still frequently chuckle about — one very special memory. Later, we could laugh at more and more memorable experiences we had with my husband.
     What other things can you do to create laughter? Just ask yourself what made you laugh in the past? Those memories are waiting for you to remember.

During a stress management course I took a few years ago, we each had to choose a project to complete. The project I chose was a “Tickler Notebook,” a collection of a various items that you think can stimulate laughter. I filled it with so many things that made me laugh: comics, pictures, sayings, poems, greeting cards, photos from a movie and many more.

It so happened that a colleague of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer and was going through this stressful life event. I made a copy of the Tickler Notebook and a co-worker of mine, Annmarie, added her beautiful butterfly photos with words of encouragement on each. We arranged this special Tickler Notebook and presented the final project to the colleague, hoping to bring her a little laughter and hopefully positive benefits. She was overwhelmed with our gift and shared her appreciation telling us how much she laughed.

Two activities below that I did were helpful to me: they got me out of the house, focused my attention on something other than my gloomy internal thoughts and stimulated laughter — even laughter at myself.

I went to the greeting card section of my favorite store and linger for a while reading the cards. Choosing cards at random first, then picking the ones that were humorous and made me laugh. At first, I chuckle silently and then the chuckles became more audible. Sometimes, others looked up and smiled at me, and we became comrades in shared fun. What could be better than sharing laughter? I have even done this with a friend who was feeling down. It will cheer them up too. I lingered in the greeting card section before my loss too, so had it in my stress management tool box to use.

     The second activity made others laugh at me — and that’s OK. I found that staying in the card section for a while, organizing them into their proper places, was fun and soothing — but this also created chuckles from others. Sometimes, they joined in the fun, and we did an outstanding job of organizing the cards into a very neat display.  We also shared some life experiences, sharing comfort and laughter. And, we gave the store worker an anonymous gift — another thing to smile about.

For those of you susceptible to obsessive behavior: be careful, as the organizing fun event can migrate and mutate to other areas of the store: for example; arranging the air fresheners according to their scents on the shelf. It still happens to me on occasion, but I’ve learned to deal with it, because it is something I can control when I feel out of control, sad, or lonely.

Maybe you have some secret things you do that nobody knows about…as I’ve revealed here. Enjoy!

     When I’m down in the dumps, I often watch funny movies. Some movies stimulate our emotions and bring forth laughter. You know what strikes your funny bone. You probably have a few movies that you can rely on to make you laugh. Take a moment to develop a list of the movies that make you laugh, movies that you have shared experiences with your loved one or your children… or choose new movies. Then plan some time to watch them alone or with someone else.

At first, you might have difficulty paying attention, as you are distracted by your woes. Have patience. Don’t give up. You’ll get the hang of it. Watching a funny movie with a friend can have the additional benefit of sharing the laughter as you watch each other’s response. Remember, laughter is contagious! Here are a few movies that made me laugh and rekindled some wonderful memories with my husband that had a healing impact:

1.      Innerspace (Dennis Quade, Martin Short, Meg Ryan) — I just loved the music, “Cupid” and “Twisting the Night Away,” the latter of which played for several minutes at the end, and I danced with the music. It reminded me of music played during my childhood, melodies that both my husband and I related to. I laughed throughout the movie, sang the old familiar songs, and felt good.
2.      Caddy Shack (Bill Murray) — My husband and I watched this every chance we got. I loved the groundhog and his little dance. We both laughed and smiled at each other. Now when I see this movie, I am reminded of the good laughter we shared together. I can still laugh at it. I even have a furry groundhog that makes the same moves as the one in the movie and plays the same song. I can flip it on anytime I wish; it makes me smile and laugh.
3.      The Other Woman (Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton) — My daughter and I have watched this several times and shared many laughs at EVERY viewing. It is a newer movie that only the two of us had watched together, but just the other day, I watched this movie with my best friend, who had not yet seen it, and we both laughed. We enjoyed sharing the laughter; she said it perked up her day, providing respite from her hectic pace and from obligations that had been getting her down.
4.      The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Dev Patel) — A movie filled with many prominent, seasoned actors had some funny moments that I laughed at and enjoyed. One thing that particularly touched me was the way they embraced life’s changes, ups and downs evolving into the next phase of life’s journey. They were seniors like me who had experiences like me and showed how they coped and continued their life’s journey. This gave me hope.
5.      Leap Year (Amy Adams, Matthew Goode) — I have watched this movie alone and also several times with my
daughter. We laughed a lot. What struck me was the love story. When you least expect it, love comes your way. I remember how it was to be young and in love with my husband. We met on a blind date, and things just progressed from there. I feel blessed to have been part of his life for the time we had.

P.S. I have watched these movies many times and will still choose to watch them in the future — hopelessly addicted to a good laugh!

     Now it’s your turn to create a laughter list when you are ready:
   places to go,
   people to see,
   movies to watch,
   books to read,
   or any activity that lift you spirit and tickle your funny bone.

     Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.  
                                         Abraham Lincoln

     Make up your mind to be happy and enjoy family, friends, and the new life’s journey that lies ahead. Use the form at the end of this section to make your own list. Take the first step to happiness — SMILE — you are loved!


·       I give myself permission to laugh and find joy in everyday things.
·       I use laughter to ease tension in my body.

·       I am filled with positive actions.


With her permission, I am serializing here a near-final version of nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise. 

Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD

Perhaps the easiest way to obtain a copy of her book, published by Outskirts Press, is through this Amazon link: 

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