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Bereavement and Grief Don’t Exclude Laughter

You may never think of putting humor and hospice in the same sentence but the truth is, the range of human emotions is vast for every circumstance and grief is no different. In fact, there is great healing power in laughter. Psychology Today outlined a study reported in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care showing that humor was present in 85 percent of nurse-based visits, with 70 percent of the humor initiated by the patient.

While death itself isn’t funny, the situations that take place before and after are rife with opportunities to infuse laughter. A key strength for coping with life (and death), humor acts as a buffer between us and the negative effects of stress — all while making a really tough situation a bit more bearable.

Why Laughter Helps

The power of humor can help us cope with even the most serious of illnesses, whether we are the ones dying or whether we are watching our loved one die. It forces us to enjoy life at all stages, not just through healthy life. When it comes to hospice care, laughter is a useful tool, helping to alleviate stress not just for the patients but for the care givers as well. The Mayo Clinic shows us the many positive short- and long-term benefits to laughter. Not only does it have psychological benefits, it can have physical effects too:

  • Stimulates organs such as heart, lungs and muscles.
  • Increases endorphins released by the brain.
  • Activates and relieves your stress response.
  • Soothes tension by stimulating circulation and muscle relaxation.
  • Improves your immune system, releasing neuropeptides that fight stress and illness.
  • Relieves pain by triggering the body’s natural painkillers.
  • Increases personal satisfaction, establishing a connection between two or more people.
  • Improves your mood, lessening depression and anxiety.

The natural wonder of laughing really does have some pretty profound effects on hospice patients, their families and the hospice care providers that work with them. So, when those giggles come on suddenly in response to a humorous situation, go with it. Take a respite whenever you can.

Therapeutic Humor

The connection between humor and health is recognized by the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, which defines therapeutic humor as “any intervention that promotes health and wellness by stimulating a playful discovery, expression or appreciation of the absurdity or incongruity of life’s situations,” says the Valley News. Have you ever laughed so hard you cried? That’s how close the two emotions are linked. Using humor to cope, you begin the stages of acceptance at the end of life. Laughter isn’t just a natural human response to difficult situations, it’s actually a relief. For one moment in time, you forget about your situation and concentrate on the here and now.

Of course, the right balance is necessary, too. Humor isn’t always appropriate and it can never be forced. This balancing act is achieved when the hospice provider and the patient are in sync, something that isn’t as rare as you may think. A good hospice care provider will know when humor isn’t welcomed at any given time, honoring that silent wish. Other times, laughter comes up very spontaneously and can give both parties a much-needed release at a time when the strain and grief is so great.

Grieving the Loss

Even after your loved one dies, you will likely always find humor in the memories you share. This is a normal part of grieving and should be embraced. It’s also completely normal to feel guilty when we laugh, because we think it’s too soon or maybe we feel it’s disrespectful. Nothing could be further from the truth. Laughing releases tension in the body, helping us cope with serious illnesses and deaths. In addition, it acts as a barometer of our well-being as a healthy response to life’s ironies, points out Huffington Post. Perhaps the best benefit is that it allows us to take back control over our lives, inject some insight and introduce a brief moment of levity to an otherwise tragic situation.

In grief, we honor the dead. In laughter, we remember the goodness of their love. Grief itself is serious, and a vital part of the acceptance of a loved one’s death. However, through humor we can find peace and isn’t that also a step towards healing?

The Chicago Tribune puts it best: laughter is a core ingredient of all facets of life, even the end of life. And while there’s no cure for death, there IS a way you can change your frame of mind about it and that’s often through laughter.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

To learn more about our hospice program, we encourage you to contact us at 888-755-7855. Our caring, compassionate, and yes – humorous – hospice care team can ease your mind about the hospice process and provide insight.