It’s OK to Laugh
Grieving is unique to the individual
If there’s one thing I’ve learned with respect to grief, it’s there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Processing and healing from grief is unique to each person as much as our DNA is unique to each of us. While we may have similar experiences and questions, our reactions and paths are our own.
In last week’s post, “Yes, It Really Happened”, I mentioned a few common questions I heard during the grieving process. “Will I ever laugh again?” is one of the most prominent questions asked by anyone who is suffering from a great loss. I certainly had that thought after my husband, Larry, passed away.
Why should I be able to laugh and enjoy life if he couldn’t?
I don’t know why but it felt wrong, awkward, for me to be laugh because, in reality, there was nothing for me to laugh at.
It was only a month or so after Larry died that I was at a school function with my children. I was talking with a group of moms, about what I don’t remember, most likely swapping stories about our kids, which of course can be great material for laughter. While I can’t recall the conversation, I clearly remember someone said something funny and intuitively I laughed.
As soon as the sound of laughter escaped my lips I gasped and closed my mouth and wanted to cry. Instead I turned from the group and walked away.
I felt embarrassed, mortified and very guilty that my husband had recently passed away and here I was laughing. I worried people would think I didn’t miss him. I felt guilty that I could still laugh, and he couldn’t. What is wrong with me? I wondered all the way home and for days to come. It really bothered me and made me question how I was processing my grief.
Of course, I was being WAY too hard on myself. I had never experienced such profound grief and at this stage of grief I didn’t know what was acceptable and what wasn’t. At the time little did I know, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some people cry, some laugh, some yell, and most… do a little bit of it all.
Gotta love an Irish wake
Now, being of Irish descent I’ve attended many funerals of loved ones and learned from an early age what an Irish wake is. My grandmother, who was 100% Irish, never seemed to care what people thought when she laughed, drank and told stories about the recently deceased. And while we all shed many tears when she died, we followed in her footsteps during the luncheon that followed and did the same.
So why did I feel so guilty laughing?
Part of the grief process for me has been reconciling two conflicting halves of my brain: the emotional half that doesn’t want to let go and move forward and the rational half that knows in order to heal I must take steps to move forward.
The first time I really laughed out loud the emotional half of my brain shut down every logical reason the rational half was trying to convey and guilt set in.
Worst of all I felt I had betrayed Larry.
Seeing others laugh gave me hope
A short while later, I attended my first group meeting at New Song, the Center for Grieving Children. It was right before Christmas and after introductions were made each member shared their plans for the holiday. I was very fragile having to face my first holiday without Larry and quite frankly I wished we could just skip the holidays that year.
While I sat there wishing away the holidays, a woman who had been going to New Song for over a year, shared that she and her children were going to go to Disneyland over the holiday break and she was smiling and joking that her husband would be with them in Spirit.
What? Wait a minute… She’s taking her kids to Disneyland? That’s allowed? And… she’s laughing about her husband?
Instead of any negative judgement of betrayal that I had placed on myself the first time I laugh out loud, I felt complete awe and admiration.
Here was another person who lost their spouse and in an amazing and incredible manner, she found a way to laugh and enjoy her new life and include her spouse, even if it is only in thought.
It gave me hope.
This time the rational half of my brain took over. Of course, Larry would want you to enjoy your life and laugh once more. No, he doesn’t think you are betraying him.
Attending the group session at New Song gave me (and the emotional half of my brain) the permission I needed to laugh and not feel guilty. And I believe with all my heart Larry would want me and the boys to laugh.
Laughter is the Best Medicine
Laughter, we’ve all heard, is the best medicine. While the saying has been around for a while, today research has proven laughter has positive effects on the body. According to Psychology Today and Mayo Clinic, the following are physical effects brought on from laughter:
- Helps your blood vessels function better
- Increase feel-good endorphins released by the brain
- Reduce stress
- Soothe tension, stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation
- Improve your immune system
- Relieve pain
- Increase personal satisfaction
- Improve your mood
It’s OK to Laugh
As I look back on the very early stages of my grief, I realize I should’ve been much kinder to myself. Mostly, I’m grateful for all the people who have crossed my path and brought laughter into my life.
I’m especially grateful to my dogs, Star and Cruiser, who brought so much love, joy and laughter into our home. In my experience babies and dogs (and other pets) bring the greatest joy and so many funny antics, one can’t help but laugh. Since I’m done having babies, I’m relying on my dogs and their quirky looks to give me my daily laugh!
I pray you find a path for joy and laughter to be a part of your life.
P.S. The picture above is Larry making Charlie laugh. He would do anything to make the boys laugh!