Laughter is Key to Grief Recovery

Humans were meant to laugh. The ability to laugh is wired into our minds, and that is a good thing for all who mourn. Four of my loved ones, including my elder daughter, died in 2007, and I thought I would never laugh again. As the months passed, however, my humor slowly returned.

Laughing helped me cope with multiple losses. “I think my zany New York sense of humor is going to save me,” I told my husband. In the early stages of grief, my laughter was as rusty as an old hinge. If I laughed unexpectedly, I enjoyed it, but wondered if my humor would last. Thankfully, it has, and I am grateful.

Laughter has short-term and long-term benefits, according to a Mayo Clinic website article, “Stress Relief from Laughter? Yes, no Joke.” The article says laughter makes you take in more “oxygen-rich air,” stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles. Just as important, laughter increases the endorphins in the brain, which affect your mood.

An improved immune system is one of the long-term benefits of laughter. In fact, laughter may cause the body to produce its own natural pain-killers. “Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations,” the article concludes. Certainly, grief is a difficult situation, probably the most difficult of your life.

A WebMD website article, “Give Your Body a Boost — With Laughter,” describes laughter therapy. Hearty laughter is similar to a mild physical workout, the article explains. But it goes on to say that you should not be hasty about stopping your treadmill workout.

Daniel Goleman comments on laughter in his book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ.” He says laughter seems to help people people think more broadly and associate more freely. “While in a good mood we remember more positive events, as we think over the pros and cons of a course of action….”

If you are grieving now, you are awash in emotional pain. How can you find laughter again? One way is to be open to it. Like me, you may have to tell yourself that it is okay to laugh during this sorrowful, dark time of life. The more you laugh, the easier it becomes.

Staying in touch with friends can also help. According to Judith Viorst, author of “Necessary Losses,” close friends contribute to your personal growth. Friends also contribute to your pleasure, “making the music sound sweeter, the wine taste richer, the laughter ring louder because they are there.” Friends helped me to laugh and your friends can help you.

Thinking of a funny experience you shared with your deceased loved one can also make you laugh. I think of the time my daughter helped with the church rummage sale. Someone had donated some new bras and volunteers didn’t know how to price them. “Charge 50 cents,” my daughter quipped. “That’s 25 cents a cup.” Everyone burst out laughing.

During your journey, you may come to rely on humor. A sense of humor brightens your days and leads to grief recovery. Thank goodness you were meant to laugh!

Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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  • Chris says:

    I just read about this article on a grieving mom’s website and it really says what I feel

    I have often said in the past nine years I would be lost without humour. what a wonderful article. My favourite line is “God has a sense of humour”, after all these years, there are so many things we can look back and laugh at. … I’ve written about this before but my wonderful son Aaron was very fond of cheese, it was his favourite food, he couldn’t get enough, he would take a block of it and microwave it without asking (expensive stuff) and we started calling him “cheeseboy”. One of our last photos is of him pretending to eat a giant block of cheese at Disney World. In an incredible stroke of irony, my son was killed by a truck. The Truck was a “Cheese Truck”. I often think (now, remember 9 years later) if what they say is true and we choose our exit from this Earth before we arrive, then Aaron sent me a huge message of God’s irresistible sense of humour and irony, because yes, now I can laugh at this.

    My son was a jokester, prankster and full of fun and laughter, what better way for us to remember him than to make jokes and laugh. I just know that his “Heaven” is filled with belly-roaring jokes and fun.

    Aaron’s mom

    • Deborah says:

      I agree…in the time Chris and i have supported each other as bereaved parents, it has probably been the humour across the continents..more than the wise words, that has made me rush to my laptop eager to see what the latest is…my son also valued humour in life and when we are laughing, I feel closer to him knowing he is laughing along with us.Laughter came quite soon to our family in the grieving process. The times we laughed in relation to our boy, was and is far more valuable to us than remembering the serious things he was good at. It brings a sense that all is well in the world.