It was interesting to see on MSN’s Health page today an article about processing grief, in response to the tragedy that happened in Arizona this week. 

“Arizona Shooting Aftermath  Don’t feel guilty about laughing.  … studies show that grief and sadness don’t just hit you like a wall, then disappear. It’s not just a uniform state, …. There are waves of emotion.  Fill those moments when sadness eases with lighthearted activities, such as a funny movie or coffee with a girlfriend who cracks you up.”


The night after my father died some years ago, after fighting cancer for 2 years,  I remember being distressed to realize, viscerally, that someone dies every second of every minute of every hour of every day…all year long, every year.  Someone dies and others grieve.  Its not the kind of thing a person normally empathizes with unless one has experienced the death of a loved one.  Its a sobering thought; all that death, all that grieving.   

My sister, Mother and I were sitting in the office of the funeral director and reminiscing about Daddy.  The director commented that he was impressed at our ability to remember him with laughter.   One of the decisions to be made was about the casket.  Daddy wanted to be cremated (sorry, Mother, for mentioning it) and we were going to be taking his ashes back to the family cemetary in West Virginia.    There is a huge range of caskets from fancy, schmancy, all the way down to a cardboard box.

We were torn because we didn’t want to disrespect him but on the other hand, wow!  caskets can be expensive.  You can ‘rent’ a casket for a funeral service and have a person actually buried in something else, but we weren’t having the casket at the service and since Daddy was being cremated, the casket would be also.

Themed caskets, what will they think of next?

My mom couldn’t bear the thought of a cardboard box.  That seemed a little cheap, although we knew that our pragmatic father would prefer it.  But saying that you buried your father in a cardboard box just seemed too tacky, so we settled on a pine box.  I think there is something stalwart, noble even, about a pine box.  I should be cremated in a casket made of palm trees, btw, if anyone is making a note of it.

My dad was a funny person, a journalist with a great sense of humor.  At the service, his family and friends shared humorous stories as well as poignant ones. 

It took my mom 2 years before she really laughed again.

One of my best friends lost her son in a horrible accident just over a year ago.  A car hit him when he was in a pedestrian cross-walk.  How can you possibly cope with the loss of a child?  My friend told her ‘circle of 7’ that she needed to laugh, irreverent though it seems to others.  We get together to do just that – play goofy boardgames, tell dumb jokes, laugh at ourselves – to help her put aside, for a short, short time, the pain of Rory’s loss.

Another friend’s son was killed in a car accident.  DJ was the life of any gathering.  Immediately upon learning of his death, his schoolmates began coming over to his parents’ house to mourn him.  The conversations always turned to his over-the-top antics.  Spur-of-the-moment jumping on a table at school and belting out songs.  Trick-or-treating naked! with only his boy-parts covered.  Pretty soon everyone in the room was laughing and crying at the same time. 

At the website  I found this insight on the value of humor, much abbreviated:

– Humor helps us regain the joy of living

– Humor helps us in recovery

– Humor helps us assist others

 Many believe in the health benefits of humor and laughter ( ) in its ability to reduce pain, stress, depression and enhance your immunity.  It also provides somewhat of a cardiovascular workout – breathing, heartrate, bloodpressure are all effected positively by laughter.

Paramedics, Firefighters, Police and ER staff use humor to deal with what they face everyday in their lives.  While lying in the ER, I overheard the staff talking about what they were doing for lunch, all the while numerous people were in the ER in pain.  Part of me wondered how they could be so oblivious to our agony, yet the other part realized they could not do their jobs without separating themselves from us.  Their joking wasn’t at our expense, it was to help them do their difficult and often thankless jobs day after day.

And what did the CHP officer tell me when he was crouching by my car window?  He said he appreciated my humor because it made it easier for him. 

The website for Ray Hananian, a comedian whose message is peace between Palestinians, Israelis and Jews, says “The best way to deal with pain is to reach right into the hurt and pull out a smile, a laugh and a feeling of hope!”  

Here is another website on the value of humor:  a site specifically devoted to Confronting Cancer with Humor.

I think an important factor, though, is that the humor is not directed AT anyone else.  We laugh at ourselves, our foibles and frailties and shortcomings.  Coming to terms with our personal brushes with death, disaster, pain, our attempts to stand in the face of adversity , of the unknown, the scary stuff. 

I whistle in the dark, too…

 Rick and I did not walk away from the accident, we were carried away in an ambulance, bruised, bloody and broken.  We are still recovering mentally, physically and emotionally, but we’re not complaining – although we do whine now and again 😉







Photo credits:


Horse laughing:

Woman sticking out her tongue:  <p><a href=”″>Image: federico stevanin /</a></p>