One night, I turned to my sister and said, “She’s probably bones now, right?”
I was, of course, referring to our mother, who had died a few years before.
My husband was horrified. “You can’t say that about your mother!”
“Why not? She had great bone structure; I’ll bet she has a really nice skeleton. If she was here right now, I’d say, ‘Mom, your skeleton looks amazing.”
“Yeah!” my sister piped in. “And she’d say, ‘I know. Death is, like, the best diet ever.”
My sister and I cracked up.
My husband stared at us like we’d just eaten a baby’s heart.
Any comedian will tell you that the darkest things in life can sometimes be the funniest – even my mother’s decomposing body. Humor is one tactic people use against pain, and it was my saving grace through my mom’s illness and in my years of grieving since she died. One of my best friends told me that when her father was dying, she subconsciously prohibited herself any levity or enjoyment; the idea of seeing a movie or even laughing at a joke filled her with guilt. But when I told her about the laughter my family shared during my mother’s last days, and the Cinco de Mayo party we threw to blow off steam, she realized that it was okay to smile, and even laugh, in the midst of pain – that in fact, we should.
Dark humor is the secret gift pain gives us in order to survive it. My own mother laughed at her diagnosis of Transitional Cell Carcinoma by saying, “Leave it to me to get crazy cancer. Why couldn’t I get normal breast cancer like everyone else?” It didn’t take away her fear and sorrow, but gave her some of the power she needed to move forward with treatment. Some cancer centers have even integrated “Laughter Therapy” into their patients’ treatment regimens, because of its ability to relieve emotional, physical, and psychological stress. Get that? Doctors are actually writing prescriptions for people to laugh – cheap medicine, as Lord Byron says.
Life can be deadly serious, but we don’t always have to take it seriously. Laughter is the bridge we build over sorrow to the joy on the other side. It is the way we remind ourselves that things will not always be like this, like surfacing for breath before plunging underwater again. As Holocaust Survivor Victor Frankl said, “I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable.”
No matter how much you’re hurting, do not be afraid to laugh. It may just save your life.