I believe in the power of humor. Humor for me, is the ultimate teacher.
Humor distances me from painful events so that I can look at them with more perspective. When my mother was dying of cancer, my entire world seemed to be crumbling. She was the center of the family and the one who made me feel loved. She had been the first person I ever admired. She was so incoherent after the first day of entering the ICU, that it was difficult to know if she understood what was being said to her.
I remember each of taking turns spending time trying to say something to her that would tell her we loved her. We wanted a special moment that with her, to connect one last time. We strove to see a sign that she would die knowing that we loved her. Yet each of us was also leaving her room with the false piousness I used to see in the faces of people who had just taken communion.
As a kid, I listened to the clickety-clack of the women’s shoes, everyone’s fine outfits, and the look of utter holiness they suddenly felt from eating a very tasteless, dry wafer that easily glued itself to the roof of your mouth. Yet such holiness ended as they exited the church doors. These same people could not be bothered to offer any of us six kids a ride home during the most horrendous snowstorms. And we had shared the handshake of peace!
I could almost hear that same clickety-clack coming from our own shoes as we exited from her room fresh with the taste of our eloquence and poignancy. Rather than offer her comfort and reassurance in passing, we clung to our need for her presence however pained and incoherent that presence was. We scrutinized every eye flutter and exhalation for some profound sign that she understood. We could tell her we loved her but we could not let her go which would have been a very loving thing to do.
No one could tell me this. But as soon as I saw the piousness we were all affecting, it became funny. Suddenly all of us were vying to be one who spoke most from the heart, became very funny. I needed that ability to separate myself from my actions by being able to laugh at myself. It gave me perspective.
That perspective that told me that my Mom knew I loved her from so many other times and that I would not have to scramble to convince her of that at this desperate last minute. I needed to know that I could laugh at myself, although it had been easier to see it first in others. That laughter somehow told me that life would be okay again, at some point. That if I could let go enough to laugh, then this horrible event would not overtake me.
Later, I told her that as much as I didn’t want her to go, if she needed to, it was okay, I would be okay. That was difficult and painful but I had been able to laugh so I really knew I would be okay.
Humor has always done this for me. It has brought me together with disparate personalities, relaxed me, given me emotional relief and somehow been that wise teacher who does not bore you. When I laugh I feel deep joy. When I could laugh at my reaction to my mother’s death, I knew I could be strong enough to cope and to heal. I believe in the power of humor.
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