Laughter and Humor in the Face of Death
Laughter provides nourishment for the soul
Sickness, pain, and death are not laughing matters. But, even while sickness, pain, and death exist, life – and the funny things that happen on a daily basis – exist simultaneously. To have the courage to laugh during our darkest times enables us to find some perspective and balance.
How can you laugh when bad things happen?
It’s horribly painful to care for a loved one facing end-of-life and death. Tears are to be expected. But so is laughter. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” Some are afraid to laugh during a tragedy or think that jokes during such a serious time are tasteless, but as Bill Cosby said, “If you can find humor in anything, you can survive it.”
A prime example of Cosby’s wisdom is humor in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. I can’t imagine finding much to laugh at in the face of starvation, brutality, and death. And yet, psychiatrist and prison came survivor Victor Frankl noted in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that humor was one of the things that helped him survive as it helped maintain a sense of purpose even in the face of death. Frankl states that he and another prisoner tried to come up with at least one funny story or joke every day. In one joke they created, a prisoner points toward a Capo (a prisoner who also acted as a guard) and says, “Imagine! I knew him when he was only the president of a bank!” And in another joke, a prisoner accidentally bumps into a Nazi guard. The guard turns and shouts, “Schwein!” (which means pig in German). The prisoner bows and says, “Cohen. Pleased to meet you.”
Humor is appropriate, even in the face of death, when it’s genuine, sensitive, and comes from the heart. As Allen Klein, author of The Courage to Laugh states, “Humor helps people cope; it empowers them and it is defiant, triumphant and life-affirming; it provides perspective and balance; and it diverts people’s attention, gives them comic relief, and liberates them from their loss.”
And if you can’t laugh, try smiling.
Leah Yomtovian Roush is the Senior Manager of Strategic Development for Cleveland, Ohio-based eFuneral, a comprehensive and free online resource that enables those thinking about end-of-life to research, plan, and arrange a wide variety of funeral-related services. Leah is the editor of eFuneral's Online Resource Center, and she manages the company's marketing efforts and develops strategies for company growth. Leah also serves on the Boards of multiple non-profit organizations, helping them expand their reaches and increase their impacts.