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Does Humor Belong in End of Life Care?

Quick answer: absolutely! It’s National Humor Month, which was created to raise awareness of the therapeutic value of humor. Those in end-of-life care in San Mateo and elsewhere can benefit greatly from laughing, as can their loved ones. Laughter brings great healing power, says Psychology Today, citing a study from the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care that shows that humor was present in 85 percent of nurse-based hospice visits at home. And 70 percent of the humor was initiated by the patient.

The range of human emotions is far-reaching for any circumstance, and grief is no different. There’s nothing funny about death itself, of course, but what takes place before and after can give rise to opportunities to inject some laughter. Coping with life (and death) takes a core strength of humor which acts like a buffer between people and stressful situations, making those situations just slightly more bearable.

The Power of Humor

The power of laughter is a coping mechanism used by many to get through tough times, even when faced with end-of-life or watching our loved ones die. The natural wonder of laughter has significant effects on hospice patients, care providers, and their families. It’s not uncommon to hear giggles come out of nowhere as people in the room respond to a humorous situation. Sometimes you just can’t help it, so ride the wave and enjoy the brief respite.

Not only does laughter force us to enjoy life at all of its different stages, even the not-so-good ones, but it can also prove to be a useful tool that alleviates stress for everyone involved. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several positive short- and long-term benefits to laughing, from psychological benefits to physical benefits. Laughter can:

  • Increase endorphins released by the brain.
  • Stimulate organs (lungs, heart, muscles).
  • Activate and relieve the stress response.
  • Strengthen the immune system, releasing neuropeptides that combat illness and stress.
  • Soothe tension through the stimulation of the circulation system as well as muscle relaxation.
  • Relieve pain through the triggering of your body’s natural painkillers.
  • Improve mood while lessening depression and anxiety.
  • Increase personal satisfaction, as two or more people seek to establish a meaningful connection.

Changing Your Frame of Mind Through Laughter

The Chicago Tribune points out that laughter is a main ingredient of life, even at the end of it. You can’t change anything about impending and certain death, but you can change how you think about it. Laughter makes that possible. After your loved one dies, there are additional ways in which you can uncover humor in shared memories — a normal part of grieving. Many of us feel guilty when we laugh during dire situations because we fear it could be disrespectful, but again, this is completely normal.

It’s important to note that the act of laughter releases tension in the body so we can more efficiently cope with serious issues such as terminal illness and death. Laughter also acts as a barometer of well-being and is a healthy response to the ironies in life, says the Huffington Post. And perhaps most heartening: laughter gives us control over our lives, even for a moment, infusing insight and levity to an otherwise stressful and tragic situation.

A Look at Therapeutic Humor

The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor recognizes the connection between humor and health, defining therapeutic humor as interventions that promote health and wellness through the stimulation of playful discovery, appreciation, or expression of the absurdity or incongruity of situations that take place throughout life, as seen in the Valley News. Sometimes, you can laugh so hard that you cry. That’s because laughter and sorrow are so closely connected. When you use humor to cope, you start to embark on the stages of acceptance of end-of-life.

That said, you need to strike the right balance, as humor isn’t appropriate all the time and shouldn’t be forced. This requires a strong bond between the hospice provider and the patient, a balancing act that the hospice care provider is well aware of. As such, they know when humor is not the appropriate expression when the patient wishes to be somber or have a private moment, for example. But we all know how quickly laughter can come on, giving both people a release when grief and strain are at their highest.

Laughter is a relief — not just a natural human response to tough situations. For a brief moment, you put aside the stress of the situation before you and live in the present. What a wonderful gift!

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Our compassionate caregivers have been known to joke around, lifting the spirits of those in their charge. We believe it’s important to introduce levity where appropriate, to give hope and lighten a very serious situation. To learn more about our program, contact us at 888-755-7855 today.