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The Power Of Tears And Laughter

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Dear friends,

In the hospital one day when they had thrown me out of Jane's room so they could change her bed clothes I encountered a couple. The male had been through open heart surgery and was brimming with advice about what I needed to do to help Jane recover. His wife sat through the conversation nodding her head. Then the husband got a phone call.

As he wandered off she leaned in towards me: "His advice is good. But he does not know what it is to be a caregiver. He does not know the challenges in that. I don't know what it is to be a patient. But he does not know what it means to be us."

She told me the hardest thing was to stay positive all the time. She urged me to watch as many comedies as I could. She said, "Even when this is over, the most important thing for you to do is to laugh. Get every comedy you can find. Watch one every night. If you don't laugh, you will make yourself sick."

When Jane died, I did not have the energy to go looking for comedy DVDs. Nor did I have the desire to laugh. In January I tried watching sitcoms on TV. I tried the British comedies on PBS. Once in a while I would smile, but it was as though laughter had left the building. I went out looking for DVDs late in the month. And slowly, I rediscovered the power of film and of comedy to take me out of my grief--if only for a few hours.

The healing power of laughter has become increasingly important to me in recent weeks. I suspect it will become even more so in the month ahead as I re-encounter the last testing days of Jane's life.

But sometimes, out of nowhere, a film will reduce me to tears. About two months ago I watched Shakespeare in Love for the first time. I laughed my way through scene after scene, finding the building of the plot of Twelfth Night in the background fascinating, in part because it is a play I developed a real fondness for after acting in it a quarter century ago. But at the end of the film, with its images of the shipwreck and the total loss of the woman Shakespeare loves, I lost my mind for a time. I cried mindlessly and uncontrollably for over an hour.

Last week, I watched The Fisher King. In it, Robin Williams' character has lost his mind following the death of his girlfriend. Then I watched Patch Adams, and discovered it too had a great loss in the middle of it that struck too close to home. And last night I watched Good Will Hunting with its psychologist who has lost his wife to cancer two years earlier.

Jane and I did not see these films when they were in theaters because we were too busy with teaching and with life. Now they seem like notes from her, reminding me of what I have lost, certainly, but also reminding me of the power of both tears and laughter.



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Dear Harry,

I to have found laughter again. Mine came on Saturday or the Columbus day weekend. My friend Greg and I went to a big yard sale, then for breakfast. We were cracking jokes all day, and hadn't laughed like that in a long time. After the day was done, I said to Greg, it sure feels good to laugh again, and for a moment he did not understand, what I meant. Then he realized, I was talking after Pauline passed, I could not find laughter in anything. Now I enjoy it again, and your are so right, laughter is good medicine. Along with the tears, when we watch movies like you watched. I was lucky, Pauline and I watched them together, on DVD's we rented. Now when I watch movies like that, I cannot help but to cry also, for my deep love lost.

God Bless


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My father's legacy to me was a sense of humor. We, as a family, have suffered much heartache and tragedies. When I was 15 my sisters had a severe car accident that left one of them a quadriplegic with extremely damaged vocal chords and her three year old son dead. My parents adopted her 4 month old baby eventually. As we took care of Donna and helped her with her speech therapy and physical therapy, she didn't want to live, she'd scream, beg us to end her life. It was hard. Today it is 44 years later and she has learned to be content (it took a few years) and still has her keen mind and her wonderful sense of humor. She has developed paranoia since the accident, which is hard, but has taken it in stride. She has delusions of moving to TX to be with her son (the one who's dead) and we allow her this dream...what can it hurt?

My father had a major heart attack, altering his life, so that he could no longer hunt and tromp around in the woods like he loved to do. He had no choice but to accept his altered life, but until the day he died, he was still joking about things. I love him for that.

My younger sister had a baby born without a brain...it had just enough to keep it alive for almost two years, the part that controls reflexes like breathing, but not the part that has cognitive ability, no forming thoughts or thinking. She knew pain vs. comfort but that's about it. She didn't know her parents were her parents, she didn't understand anything about the world around her, but she was sweet in spirit. Some might think it sick, but my sister got her a Wizard of Oz T-shirt that read "If I only had a brain". I understood. It was my family's way of coping...with humor, the same way we had always gotten through life. Sure, some might think it sick, but when you're in that situation it doesn't really matter what others think, what matters is getting through the day the best you can, and my family had learned to do it with humor.

I've heard it said, "Laugh, or go crazy". I've found there's something to that. Some things it's pretty hard to find any humor in, but with time, perhaps you can find something about it...although initially you might not be able to. Look at comedy...what they poke fun at in life. I was listening to a late show a couple of nights ago and I'll be darned if they didn't poke fun at the president's getting shot at...I wish I could remember what they said, but it was actually funny...they poked fun at a situation that you wouldn't think anyone could find humor in and I'll be danged if they didn't pull it off and do it well, amazing! That's what comedians do...they poke fun at life and it seems nothing is sacred to them, but they manage to keep us going. They laugh at our absurd situations, at calamity, at our dysfunctional families, and yes, even sometimes at death itself. They poke fun at our fears and our love, and having kids, and everything else in life! And yes, sometimes it's that very humor that helps us take life with a grain of salt. It's humor that lightens the weight of the load and keeps things in a more balanced perspective. It's humor that lessens the intensity of situations and makes it more bearable.

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