“Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.” -Swedish Proverb
Have you ever noticed that sometimes you can laugh so hard that you eyes tear up? Have you ever noticed that the reverse is also true – that when you are deepest in grief and tears, you will find yourself laughing and smiling and the most absurd things?
My oldest son and I recently shared a moment of poignant vulnerability and laughter through tears of sadness and loss. We recently had to say our final goodbyes to our kitty of almost 13 years – and it was simply awful. This cat had been my son’s study buddy, confidant, watch-cat, and all-round companion since my son picked him out of the litter at the age of 5 when the kitten was 5 days old. My son and I held each other as our companion passed, crying in each others arms, reminiscing about what a wonderful pet our kitty had been, and laughing over his junk food habit and other little quirks. Saying goodby was painful – but sharing the vulnerability and laughter through tears with my young adult son was precious. I feel genuinely blessed to have such a close and wonderful relationship with both my sons that we can cry and laugh together, openly and with mutual compassion and respect.
Laughter through loss and grief is a coping mechanism – one that can help us through some of the most trying and difficult times, be it death, divorce, job loss or chronic illness. Stages of grief are well known to most by now, as outlined anywhere if you google it. But little is mentioned about laughter during periods of grief. Often, people feel guilty if they feel any joy or laughter when they “should” be feeling sad.
Bah-humbug, I say to that. I will give you a personal example of how laughter helps us work through our grief.
When my mother passed away a number of years ago, my cousins flew in to be with me and help me make arrangements for the funeral. They stayed with me while my aunt stayed with my father. My cousins were always a riot to be with – and their ability to make me laugh was priceless. When I was sleepless, we would lie in our beds and they would tell me jokes and stories about our childhood, featuring my mom, and made me laugh so hard through my tears that my stomach hurt.
When we came back from the funeral, the director handed me my Mother’s ashes in an urn, which was placed in a canvas beach bag emblazoned with the funeral home’s name and logo. We silently got into my car, as I gingerly placed the bag holding my mother’s urn on the floor behind my seat. As I started the car, I began to giggle uncontrollably at an absurd thought that popped into my head. I shared this thought with my cousins, and within seconds, the three of us were gut-laughing through tears of grief…and it lasted for a full 30 minutes where we could barely breathe from the laughter. The absurd thought? I had turned to them and said “Next time I come visit you, we can go to the beach and I’ll make sure to bring this great canvas beach bag they gave us – so we can remember the good times we had, eh? Good times, good times!” Morbid? Definitely! But the absurdity of the situation struck us…and the gut-busting laughter helped reduce the intensity of the deep grief we were feeling at Mom’s loss. I don’t have the bag anymore, but to this day, I look at canvas bags with a bittersweet memory and pang. I remember my mother and my cousins fondly, and feel warmth and love – no more grief.
Embrace your grief. Embrace your joy. Embrace the laughter you find within both and in the zone in-between. Accept the laughter through your tears…there is a reason for such a priceless balance.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh