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Finding Humor in Our Grief

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“And finding something funny – anything – under those painful conditions is good.

If you can laugh even while you feel pain, there’s hope.”

—Linda Richman

In her book, I’d Rather Laugh: How to be Happy Even when Life Has Other Plans for You, Linda Richman tells her story of pain from the losses in her life, first while growing up and then culminating in the loss of her son and working through that tragedy with humor.

 “I learned that we can withstand a lot of pain and loss and not just survive it but rise above it. I learned that no matter how sad you are today, happiness and laughter and even joy are still distinct possibilities for tomorrow, or if not tomorrow, the day after that. And I learned that you and I have in our power the ability to get all that and more. . . no matter what horrible thing has happened; life still offers you humor if you want it.”

It isn’t what happens to us – it’s what we do with it.

Survival. Linda Richman had a crazy mother and a father who died when she was 8. She hated her mom, who had major problems. Linda married early and her marriage was a disaster. She became agoraphobic, fearful of being in crowded places or leaving her home.

Just when Linda was pulling her life together, her son was killed at the age of 29. She went into a tailspin. Her daughter was in pain and she was in pain until one day Linda cracked a joke that broke the pain cycle, released them from it, and changed both their lives.

We may not think we can be as fearless or strong as Linda, but each of us has the capacity to activate humor in some way to help us heal.

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
—Proverbs 17:22

On the first anniversary of my husband’s death, I invited friends and family over for a dinner party. All of us had been grieving in our own way. The intensity of pain had receded, and it was time to come together and just laugh. I wanted to put a happy, positive layer to our memories. So, we toasted to his life and laughed as we shared humorous stories of our times together.

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
—Mark Twain

Laughter heals.

Are there really health benefits to laughter, other than feeling good in the moment?

Yes, there are, and it is confirmed not only through scripture and sages of the past, but also from medical research. Unchecked, long-held stresses over time contribute to illness.

Laughter releases hormones that help heal our physical body and strengthens our heart and immune system.

Hearty laughter exercises the heart – lowers blood pressure, gives our lungs a workout, and releases tension in all parts of our body.

Humor is not just fun.

Finding Humor in Our Grief

It is an extremely powerful medicine that heals the soul and mends the body. Humor is a revival, a mini-vacation, a breath of fresh air, a way to cope. Humor can allow the pain to subside for a moment, make life more bearable, put perspective on situations, and allow us to laugh at ourselves and our situations. It gives us power over what might seem like an impossible or powerless situation.

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!”
—Leo Buscaglia

It may seem difficult to laugh and find joy in our losses when our hearts are heavy with sorrow. But when we give ourselves permission to feel joy, happiness and laughter, our losses take on a more complete and healing integration. We can tap into those layers of humor as well as the layers of pain and sorrow.

We might think it irreligious or in some way devaluing of our loss to find things that are humorous. Instead, it balances our sorrow with joy. It takes the sting out of loss and brings normalcy back into life. It takes an intolerable situation, one packed with intense emotions, flips it over and “tickles its tummy.” Humor takes the edge off pain.

We can choose to look at the world in a positive way or a negative way. A loss by its very nature demands grieving. But even when grieving, we have the ability to laugh.

What we gain through humor and laughter:

  • Ability to see a more all-inclusive view of life – sorrow and happiness.
  • We can stop pretending, be real and laugh at ourselves and our imperfections.
  • Possibilities are expanded and we feel encouraged to move forward.
  • Humor helps us cope and survive in even the most horrible conditions. It gives us a way out – it balances life. Laughter disconnects us from the dreadfulness of the moment.
  • Humor helps us overcome fear, anxiety and uncertainty. It removes the rough edges of loss and fills in the deep chasms of distress.
  • Anger, hostility and fear are diminished. It is difficult to be remain angry when we can laugh.
  • Humor and laughter diminish emotional pain.
  • Humor breaks a deadly self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.
  • Laughter brings people together.

With all the positive results of humor and laughter, why don’t we laugh more?

I think we don’t want to be judged or criticized. We might feel embarrassed if we are showing a happy side when we are “supposed” to be grieving.

Sometimes we do not want to give up the immediate benefits of being angry. There might be a hesitancy because we heard messages as a child that said we were to be serious, especially when grieving a significant loss.

But I would rather find those moments when I can laugh in the midst of my sorrow. When I find those kernels of the absurd and ridiculous, I can create that moment of freedom from pain to laugh at myself and my world. It is both freeing and regenerating.

Each of us has the ability to create humor and laughter. And it is not just fun. It is extremely serious and a powerful “medicine” that heals the soul and mends the body and helps us cope in the worst of times.

What makes you laugh?

When do you laugh the most? Find time each day to find something to laugh about or find humor in. Make it a priority. It will help make your grief recovery easier and satisfactory.

Richman, Linda. I’d Rather Laugh: How to be Happy Even when Life Has Other Plans for You, Warner Books, 2001

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

2 Responses to “Finding Humor in Our Grief”

  1. Reply Anne Sadler

    Loved this podcast. I found it to be true after losing my son too. Thank you so much!

    • Reply Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

      Thanks Anne, Sometimes it is really hard to find those kernels of laughter, but it can be so helpful in our healing process.

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