Do you know there is actually a medical term for using humor to help yourself feel better?
According to WebMD, humor therapy or therapeutic humor, purposely uses the power of smiles and laughter to promote healing and distract the person from pain, or in this case, the emotional confusion permeating your life while grieving.
New grief is all about learning to live with a sense of unreality. Unfortunately, until you actually experience this raw emotion, you can’t really imagine how it feels. You think you know, you think you can conjure up those feelings of deep pain but it doesn’t work that way. I think that’s why people who have been lucky enough not to experience a death in their families or among their friends think you can “get over” the loss of a loved one in six months or a year.
To put it simply, grieving is not the opposite emotion of happiness. Think of it this way in the case of a spouse or partner: for years, you wake up next to a person, talk to them every day, eat with them, love them and share everything with them. Then, suddenly, instantly, they aren’t with you anymore. But you are expected to carry on. And somehow you manage to figure out a way to do this.
It may not be what everyone else thinks you should do but it works for you and that’s what’s important. There are no magic formulas. You find yourself saying things such as: “I can’t believe he (or she) is gone.” “This is so unreal.” “Where is he (or she)?” “I would just feel a little better if I knew exactly where he (or she) is; that they are somewhere where I know they are okay. Do you think they’re okay?”
Even now, eight years later, I wonder where my husband actually is. Okay, maybe I made you laugh by saying that thought, but it’s true.
I try to imagine that he is doing something he really liked A LOT because that always makes me smile. Depending on the time of year, sometimes I think he’s at a Yankees game, eating a hot dog and wearing his favorite hat or he’s at a Giants football game, eating a hot dog, wearing his other favorite hat and screaming his head off. Then again, maybe he’s at the beach lounging in a chair, reading or swimming. Sometimes, I imagine he is with his friends who have also died and they are all sitting around in some heavenly bar drinking and telling each other non-stop stories. I don’t know. . . Maybe he’s doing all of those things. Or maybe’s he a child again. After awhile, I have to put the brakes on myself because I start to get overwhelmed by the very idea of it.
But I think I’m pretty sure about one thing: he’s probably not at the cemetery. While there is a marker there for him, it’s more of a touchstone for us, the people who cared about him and loved him. Sometimes we go there and do silly things that we think he would like. We’ve scattered his favorite cookies all over his grave, released balloons and arranged flowers that were his favorite color. Once, we were going to put hash marks in the grass like a football field but we figured we would get into trouble for that so we put the kibash on that idea, at least temporarily.
Continuing in the same vein of therapeutic humor, one of the more irreverent things my family ever did was in the cemetery after my husband was just buried. It was early December and he still didn’t have a marker on his grave yet. It had snowed and we kept guessing where he was and we forgot to look for the metal ring in the ground so we all kept guessing different places which got to be ridiculous. We were in the right neighborhood but not in the exact spot. Finally one day some people in my family had had it with the guessing game and the lack of a marker. I think it was one of those “perfect storm” moments when strong emotions came together and they decided to act.
They saw all these small Christmas trees on a large headstone and spontaneously decided to take one and put it in the place where they thought my husband was buried. I can’t even remember if it was the right place or not. Anyway, then they put lots of other Christmas decorations around the tree they had erected in the snow to mark off his grave so they would definitely know where he was and where to go the next time.
As always, I know they acted out of love plus you have to remember that they were trying to deal with their own feelings of loss. It was our first Christmas without him and it was important to them that they knew exactly where he was and so they fixed it. Grief is definitely an uncharted journey that takes you AND others to some funny places.