Laughter Truly is the Best Medicine

Two people laughing

This week, Steve explores the relationship between grief and humour; it may surprise you to know, that they have a very close relationship. 

People are looking for a funeral ceremony nowadays that fully represents the person they’ve lost. Celebrant-led funerals are becoming increasingly popular because of this. 

I have been asked many times to help a family find a way of representing more fully the personality of the person who has died, rather than focus entirely on writing their eulogy. And there are many ways that we can do this, through a mix of the right music, ofrenda, video eulogy, sharing memories and personal tributes, also with symbolism, thanksgiving, and humour. For example, if the personality and character of a loved one were marked by an innate sense of humour, then I think it makes sense, that the ceremony should be light-hearted.

When we’re experiencing loss, everything can appear grey and gloomy. Laughter, however, allows us to step outside of ourselves, even if only temporarily. It’s not a distraction but a way to provide a fleeting moment of perspective. 

Despite the notion amongst many that humour is inappropriate during difficult times, humour and laughter can help us cope with our loss. No matter the circumstances, amidst the tears and the pain, I find that when meeting families to arrange a ceremony, the conversation often turns at some point into a funny memory. And so, cue the laughs.

A Word of Caution

There should always, of course, be a feeling of gravitas, and integrity, but with careful consideration, the ceremony can be buoyant and good-humoured too. 

This is not to deny or veneer over the feelings of grief and loss – but with care and sensitivity, the ceremony can just as easily represent the lighter emotions of love and laughter.

“A smile or laugh is, perhaps, the most exquisite thing in nature”. Humour, however, is not absolute. What is funny to me may not be funny to you. What is funny today may not be funny next week. Some things are funny with one group but not with another. Humour is subjective and everything depends on the perception of what we see or hear. Nevertheless, humour can ease pain, make a point, or break the ice.’[1] 

Grief and laughter

Medically speaking, when we laugh, we reduce the cortisol or stress in our bodies. Laughter boosts our immune system, helps with the upper respiratory system, and reduces pain. Laughter truly is the best medicine. 

Even just smiling can have increased health benefits and reduce stress. While humour and laughter are important for our daily health, there is still a place for tears and grief too. 

A good many people would probably say that a funeral isn’t the time or place for cracking jokes. I, however, would argue that it’s the perfect time and place for doing so if it reflects the personality and character of the person who has died.

To be honest with you, it is much easier to officiate a sad and mournful funeral ceremony. It seems the natural thing to want to do given the circumstances, and everything melancholic and woeful can just as easily be used. It is much more difficult to reflect the absurd, or indeed the playful character and so tastefully and respectfully – but it is very doable.

The Road to Hope

The relationship between hope and laughter is intrinsic.

After losing someone we love, remembering the times when we laughed together can be a great comfort, and so, creating moments of light and shade during a funeral ceremony is very important in my view because together, they lead us to hope…

Feel no guilt in laughter, she’d know how much you care.
Feel no sorrow in a smile that she is not here to share.
You cannot grieve forever; she would not want you to.
She’d hope that you could live your life the way you always do.
So, talk about the good times and the way you showed you cared
about the days you spent together and all the happiness you shared.
Let memories surround you, a word someone may say 
Will suddenly recapture a time, an hour, or a day,
that brings her back as clearly as though she were still here,
and fills you with the feeling that she is always near.
For if you keep those moments, you will never be apart
and she will live forever locked safely within your heart.

–     Unknown

“I saw grief drinking a cup of sorrow and called out, “It tastes sweet, does it not?” “You’ve caught me,” grief answered, “and you’ve ruined my business, how can I sell sorrow when you know it’s a blessing?” 

–        Jamaluddin Rumi


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