Laughter and Loss

by Allen Klein, MA, CSP

Keeping Your Loved One Alive

My daughter was ten-years-old when my wife died. The three years that we knew my wife had a terminal illness was a terrible strain on both of us. I realized after my wife’s death that my daughter and I needed a reprieve from what we had been through. We needed an adventure. So I booked a trip to Alaska on the Inside Passage ferry system. And what an adventure it was. We went whitewater rafting, took seaplane rides, and spent the night next to a calving glacier.

Taking the trip was an instinctual decision but, looking back, a very wise one. It not only helped take our minds off of our loss but it also helped us bond. That bonding allowed us to talk openly about Ellen’s death. It made it easier to not hide our feelings or avoid conversations about our loss. It also allowed us to both laugh and cry together.

We would often talk about missing Ellen. Frequently, when we didn’t quite know what to do in a situation, we would turn to each other and ask, “What would Mommy do?” And then do it her way. Often we discussed Ellen as if she were alive and still part of our life, which, on some level, she was. And we continued to have those conversations, although less so as time went on.

To keep your loved one alive, learn from the lessons they have left for you and you will be speaking of them often. And remember the funny times too.

Death is Not Funny, but Funny Things Happen

One of those humorous times has become my signature story in my presentations. “My wife, Ellen, lay dying in the hospital, a copy of Playgirl by her side. Suddenly, she opened to the male nude centerfold and insisted it be put on the wall ‘I think it’s too risqué for the hospital, I said.

Nonsense, she replied. Just take a leaf from the plant and cover up the genitals.’”

I did as she requested. This worked well for the first and second day. By the third day, however, the leaf started to shrivel and reveal more of what we were trying to conceal.

We laughed every time we looked at a plant or a dried-up leaf. It brought us closer together, revived us, and steered us through our sea of darkness. It is humor and laughter that can help us rise above our trials, tribulations, and losses, so that we don’t suffer.

The Other Side of Sadness

We don’t often think of putting humor/laughter and grief together. Yet some of the latest research in the field has shown how powerful humor and laughter can be after the loss of a loved one. Researchers Dacher Keltner and George A. Bonanno did a two-year study of people who had experienced the death of a spouse. They found that “the more widows and widowers laughed and smiled during the early months after their spouse’s death, the better their mental health was over the first two years of bereavement.”

Perhaps their findings should not be so surprising. After all, humor is a great coping mechanism. And laughter provides a release as well as being a muscle relaxer. Finding the humor in anything and laughing about it gives you a break from the pain of loss. It also provides a breath of fresh air at a time when everything seems dark and heavy.

The difficulty, of course, is how to regain your lost laughter after a loss. Having lost my wife at the age of 34, I know how difficult that can be. I also know that it is not only possible to enjoy life after the death of a spouse but that it is necessary. If you don’t, two lives are lost…the person who has died and the person who is still living but stuck in the past.

Embracing Life After a Loss

Knowing how difficult it is to go from loss to laughter, I wrote about the five steps needed to do that in my latest book, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying. Below is a short excerpt from that book.

Step One: LOSING

“If you believe yourself unfortunate, because you have loved and lost, perish the thought. One who has loved truly, can never lose entirely.”

–Napoleon Hill, American author

I don’t think we ever forget the people we lose. So in some sense, they are never gone. But, still, it hurts not to be able to see them, hear them, or hold them again. Loss hurts. But it can also help us be stronger, wiser, and, if nothing else, more appreciative of every moment we have on this earth.

Step Two: LEARNING

“Turn your wounds into wisdom.”

–Oprah Winfrey, American television host

Every time you lose something, you are presented with an opportunity to acquire something new. With each loss, there is a golden opportunity for a new beginning. You may not realize it right now, but your loss is part of your growth process. In fact, your loss can be seen as a gift.

How could you possibly even think of loss as a gift? You have lost someone who was very dear to you. You have perhaps lost the one person in your life that meant everything to you. You have lost a significant part of who you were. It certainly doesn’t feel like a gift.

And yet, it is.

Your loss is serving you. It is helping you examine who you are, why you are on this earth, and how to live your life. Among other things, your loss has given you:

–the gift of appreciating life more fully

–the gift of cleansing through mourning

–the gift of love.

The most healing thing you can do after reading this is to open the gift.

Step Three: LETTING GO

“The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.”

–Voltaire, French philosopher

Crying is the body’s way of dealing with loss. It is unhealthy to squelch your tears. What you stifle today may come back in greater force tomorrow. But continuing to endlessly wallow in those tears is not healthy. At some point, you need to get on with your life.

Today might be the day to take the first step, to let go, to move on.

Step Four: LIVING

“I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss,

or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have — life itself.”

–Walter Anderson, American magazine editor

The loss of someone close to you provides an opportunity for a new beginning and an enriched life. Once you start to work through your grief process, you can begin to fill the vacuum that was created by your loss with an even fuller sense of life.

Ultimately, in dealing with a loss, the choice is yours. No matter what the situation, you have a choice of how you react to it. You can remain in your grief and turn your face away from life or you can move on and embrace life.

Choose life.

Step Five: LAUGHING

“Tragedy and comedy are but two aspects of what is real, and whether we see the tragic

or the humorous is a matter of perspective.”

–Arnold Beisser, American polio-disabled author

Many of the world’s top comedians intuitively knew the power of laughter when they experienced a major loss in their life. They turned to it to cope and eventually perfected their craft and made comedy their career.

Your goal is probably not to become a stand-up comic, but you can take a lesson from these renowned comedians and use humor and laughter to help you to cope with your loss.

Laughter and humor are one of God’s gifts to overcome your trials and tribulations.

About the Author: Allen Klein is an award-winning speaker and author 20 books including The Healing Power of Humor, The Courage to Laugh, Inspiration for a Lifetime, Change Your Life!: A Little Book of Big Ideas, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying, and the audiobook TeacherLaughs   Allen’s Website Contact: humor@allenklein.com

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