Notes on death and laughter

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Updated Sep 18, 2012

I’m home this week for a funeral. Death is an intrinsic part of life, but like vaccinations and taxes, it’s never pleasant. No one is ever prepared to lose a loved one, no matter how long they’ve been sick. We all hope for a peaceful, quiet death, and suffering is never part of the plan.

As a long-term care nurse, I have attended more deaths than I care to remember. Even though nursing homes would have you believe otherwise, people are sent to them to die. Walking the halls of a facility in the middle of the night, when it’s quiet and dark, you can feel the presence of death, waiting in the corners and lurking on the sheets.

Working and taking care of people under those circumstance can become quite taxing on the spirit of the living. Sometimes, humor is the only way to deal with the daily pain of families losing their loved ones, and watching people you’ve taken care of leave the mortal coil. I developed my sense of humor as a survival instinct, a way to stay sane and level while being bombarded with suffering every day. I am completely aware that I’m blessed beyond belief to be able to laugh instead of cry. It’s definitely a gift I’m very thankful for.

My friend Barb spent a great deal of time being ill before she died. She fought hard, she didn’t want to leave her kids and grandkids. Towards the end, when she was too sick to eat, her daughter would entertain her by reading my posts out loud at her bedside. She laughed, and she enjoyed the silliness of my goofy predicaments. Hearing that she was happy for those few minutes every couple of days humbled me more than any writing accomplishment I have ever achieved.

Nothing about this post is funny, and it isn’t meant to be, but I think we can all agree that laughter truly is the best medicine. No matter how dismal things seem, if you can find one thing to laugh about, you’ve won. There is no greater joy than laughing with your loved ones, unless of course, you’re laughing about winning the lottery.

Have a laugh today. Look for the absurdity in tense situations — there’s always one thing that can be seen as funny. If you’re in the middle of an insane traffic jam, and people in four-wheelers look up to see you laughing, they’re much more likely to call the police on you for drinking and driving. Kidding!

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They’re much more likely to laugh themselves, and the situation becomes a “team” effort, instead of a “me against you” kind of thing. Try it. Laugh long and loud, scare children with your bellow, wipe tears of mirth from your eyes. And above all, be careful out there. No matter who you are, there’s someone who cares if you make it to the next stop.

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