Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Three Ways To Use Laughter To Get Through Life's Toughest Times

Ive never had cancer. But I can't tell you how many times I begged God to let me bear that burden. My son, a strapping 22-year-old junior at the University of Missouri, woke up with an aching chest that turned out to be a malignant tumor. Hes only a boy, I pleaded. Ive had a great life. Let it be me"not him.

After his diagnosis, much of what happened was a blur. Months of chemo. Surgery. Watching my son lose his hair, his appetite gone because everything tasted metallic, as all the while he wondered if he would have a girlfriend, a family of his own, a life

I'd spent twenty years studying therapeutic humor. I"d written about it, spoken on it, spent years of my life convincing colleagues, peers, and audience members that laughter plays an important role in our lives. Now, it was time to walk the walk. It was hard, I won't kid you about that. Finding something to laugh about during one of the toughest times in our lives sometimes required conscious effort. Yet sometimes, thankfully, if we would just let it, it would just happen. We'd find ourselves laughing at the situations life presented. Humor was a saving grace for all of us.

Sorrow has its hour. There were many tears. But joy has a claim as well, and there was laughter too. Lots of laughter.

My son has always been lucky in his friends. David's roommates provided him with great support and camaraderie, dubbing him "Captain Cancer" -- the superhero no one wants to be. One roommate, an artistic red-headed color blind Italian, begged to decorate my son's newly bald head with colorful markers.

He also found support at work. He worked as a bouncer at a local bar. The man he worked the door with was known as Tonto, and my son was The Lone Ranger. Following one of his treatments, a bunch of his buddies visited the bar. Afterward, David announced his new nickname, bestowed by his friends: Chemo-sabi!

Many patients long for humor during their healing process. Allen Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor, surveyed patients who were terminally ill about their feelings about humor. A vast majority (80%!) wished to laugh more. They wanted more humor -- from the people around them. They also wanted the freedom to use humor themselves.

What is the best way to use humor? Ideally, humor is used proactively, to help heal the body and the spirit. Here are three ways to do this:

Play: We can create our own joy and wellness with play. Create a play list -- ten or more items that don't cost a lot of money that you enjoy doing. They can be simple, they can be personal, but they have to be fun. When you're feeling down, do an item from the list. This will make you feel better.

Make it easy to play by having fun toys around. Magic 8 balls, water guns, even the proverbial rubber chicken-- as long as it makes you smile, it'll work.

Surround yourself with pre-packaged laughs. Collecting funny books, magazines, movies and cartoons is a great way to keep the humor going. Ask people to tell you their funniest story or most embarrassing moment. Save jokes and funny stories. Spending time enjoying your collection can perk up even the toughest days.

Make Connections: Surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Spend as little time as possible with negative, downbeat folks who make you feel bad. Ask people to laugh -- and do your best to make them laugh. One laugh leads to the next!

To live well, you must laugh. That's one of the pivotal lessons I learned from my son. He's cancer free now, for four years. And he's also my inspiration: for his courage, his gentle spirit, and of course, his sense of humor. It's my honor to say that he's my hero.

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