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How can humor help you heal?

There is a scene in the movie “Steel Magnolias” where Sally Field’s character is leaving her daughter’s funeral and experiences several emotions in a few minutes. She is sad, angry, confused and then she starts to laugh. Many people who are grieving wonder how they will ever laugh again. I think this scene is a great example that just like other emotions, laughter can be one part of the grief journey, a healing part.

Laughter has been used in healing for centuries. The ancient Greeks employed clowns in Hippocrates’ time. And today studies show that laughter: reduces physical and mental stress levels; improves moods; lowers anxiety; increases alertness; improves immune systems; reduces pain; and lowers blood pressure — all things helpful for mourners. One study from UC Berkeley followed recent widows and widowers and even found that those who smiled and laughed when recalling times with a loved one had lower levels of depression and anxiety at six, 12 and 24 months after the death.

It is my experience that many people are able to laugh, even right after a death. When I sit with family members and hear stories of their loved ones’ lives, laughter is often part of the sharing. And then when I turn those stories into a personalized ceremony and officiate at the remembrance, memorial or funeral service, laughter is often heard there as well. At times, people feel guilty for their laughter thinking they should only be feeling pain and sorrow. I invite these people to look to children as their teachers. A child can move from sadness to laughter and then back to sadness from one moment to the next — they welcome it all, feel it and then move on.

When I facilitate support gatherings, I say tears and laughter are welcome. One such support gathering will be our next Monday’s Moments Complimentary Luncheon on Aug. 6. Our theme will be “Humor to Help Heal,” and we’ll discuss the importance of humor and ways to create what Nancy Weil of The Laugh Academy calls your own HPOA – humor plan of action. Another gathering will be our September luncheon with a theme of “Plan Ahead.” Here’s something to make you laugh: This Monday’s Moments will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 4. These luncheons are held from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott, 1730 University Drive, State College.

To RSVP, please email me at Jackie@JackieHook.com or call 404-0546. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, I hope to see you at one of these gatherings, and until then I hope you heed these words of Madeleine L’Engle: “A good laugh heals a lot of hurts.”

Jackie Hook, MA, is a spiritual director and celebrant. She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College. For more information, call 237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.
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