Three faces of elderly people laughing.

Sometimes You Gotta Laugh

My dad always appreciated a clever sense of humor. I could hear the comforting sounds of his laugh through the floor as he guffawed and groaned at Johnny Carson’s antics on the Tonight show, like Carnac the Magnificent. “I hold in my hand the last envelope,” Ed McMahon would say. Johnny would hold the envelope up to his elaborately turbaned forehead and say, “UCLA.” He would then, with great flourish, tear open the envelope to reveal the question answered by his enigmatic statement written on the slip inside, “What happens when there isn’t any smog?” (That's a joke for my hubby!).

Sometimes, I would sneak down to watch TV from the doorway when I couldn’t sleep. I would inevitably get caught laughing, mostly because of my dad, certainly the double entendres were going over my head, and race upstairs to dream about being old enough to stay up and watch.

Choosing between laughter and tears

As my dad’s disease progressed, his sense of humor was a blessing when you had to choose between laughter and tears. The two aren’t far apart anyway. Dad would do something crazy, and he would laugh and totally fess up! He wasn’t sly at all! Dad came tottering down the hall one day when he could still walk fairly well. He would grab things to hold onto along the way, like he was traveling aft or astern on open waters.

As he got closer, I could see his beard stubble looked strangely more whiteish than usual. Maybe it was the manly Old Spice smell that gave him away. “Dad? (Somehow I just knew) Did you put deodorant on your face?!” “Of COURSE,” he laughed sounding so cavalier! We couldn’t help but laugh! I grabbed baby wipe after wipe to remove the stuff from his whiskers. At least no wetness or odor for his face in the next 24 hours! And thank goodness he hadn’t shaved under his arms!! He thought that was pretty funny, too!

Sometimes it's no laughing matter

My dad’s vision had gotten pretty poor due to glaucoma. His judgment had become pretty poor due to Alzheimer’s disease. It was a little funny when I found baby wipes pulled out of their package on the end of the kitchen counter later and partially shredded. “Dad? Did you try to eat the wipes?!” “Of COURSE! HA!” “Were you looking for something to eat?!” “Dad! They aren’t food!” “Yeah, I know that now! Bleh! They didn’t taste very good.” “Oh, dad.”

It wasn’t funny at all when the little, red, glass Christmas ornaments on the table were found half-eaten. “Dad! Those aren’t food!! We need to rinse your mouth out! Are you okay?! Oh, good LORD!!” “Spit, dad!” “Oh, good Lord!” “I thought they were food. They weren’t good at all.” Dad was becoming worse than a toddler!! And of COURSE, I felt like a terrible mother and daughter and everything else. Note to self, put stuff away right away, especially if someone could somehow mistake it for food!! Oh, good lord. Do I need to put the caps back in the outlets?!

Humor to relieve the tension

Laugh or cry. Sometimes both. At the same time. Dinner time was fun. It was social interaction for all of us. I could serve my dad actual food. Apparently, he would eat anything, so I didn’t have to worry about a picky eater. My husband would ask my dad questions to draw him out and shake the cobwebs off of the wheels of his memory. Scott asked dad how many kids he had. Dad paused and took a stab at, “Three!” I only knew of my brother and me. My mom even wanted to know the answer to THAT question! My dad managed to name my brother and me then stalled to our laughter and relief! No discovery of family secrets over this meal!

Some of the changes in my dad were almost endearing. He was childlike at times. A hug could fix a lot of things. He could get surly and frustrated, then laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. It allowed us to laugh, too. Laughter has a palliative affect for sure. There is no disrespect in it. It lightens the load and relieves the tension. It gives everyone permission not to be perfect and to delight in the moment. Laughter lets us loosen the bonds of the tragic and revel in the silly. “Sis Boom Bah.” “Describe the sound made when a sheep explodes.” My dad thought that was really funny!!

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