I believe in laughter. I believe in the coping, healing power of laughter that can bring light into a dark experience, and take me beyond a moment of grief, anger, or helplessness.
At my father’s death, my family spent the required hours greeting friends and relatives, hearing their stories and basking in the reflected glow of their love for him. After the company departed, my mother, my eight siblings and I were exhausted.
I don’t remember the first pun or joke, or who offered the anecdote that got us started. But one of us chuckled. And someone giggled, and in a few minutes we shocked ourselves with laughter that wouldn’t stop. Our individual attempts to restore some dignity to the day were fruitless; with knocks on the door we could only hold our breaths until the kind visitor left condolences and a cake or plate of sandwiches, and we could shudder out the helpless laughter once again. Soon enough, we one-by-one took deep breaths, sighed, and came to our senses. As guilty and baffled as we felt by our seemingly tasteless behavior, we agreed that it was preferable to gathering in a circle and sobbing at our loss and hurt. For those few minutes we weren’t alone. Our laughter was a gift that our Pop had left behind for us, something we still shared despite the bitter wound that was our grief.
We never actually discussed this odd family event. I remembered it as a peculiarity of mourning, a coping mechanism, a release of tension. We had a similar experience five years later with our mother’s death and the stress of meeting and greeting for hours.
I’ve seen laughter at work countless other times in the 20 years since my parents’ deaths. I recognized the laughter of a neighbor as she described a week in the hospital room with her daughter following brain tumor surgery. I’ve seen anger and frustration dissolve when work colleagues have discovered the sillier aspects of power-grabbing. I’ve shared bad jokes and chuckles to catch a half-smile from my elderly aunt who seldom responds to any stimulus at all. I’ve heard the giggles of children, their eyes brimming with unshed tears, who have been able to see the slapstick of their pratfalls and skinned knees.
I’ve seen the wonder of laughter with such consistency that I search for it in difficult situations. I’ve learned that one of the most important steps in dealing with any disaster, real or imagined, is to see that first spark of humor. As soon as I chuckle I know I will eventually cope, and that I will have at least a few seconds of relief from my troubles.
I like to think that my efforts to find a reason to laugh connect me in a powerful way to those I know and love. I believe that the smiles and jokes that are offered to me in return are some of life’s best gifts. I believe in laughter.
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