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Caring is a laughing matter

Here’s one of life’s simple truths. “There are only four kinds of people in the world those who have been caregivers, those who are caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”

It’s hard to dispute a true statement. And it’s attributed to former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who established the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (www.rosalynncarter.org).

Except it’s not that simple. In fact, it’s likely to be very complicated. For some of you reading this, all four categories fit. Right now, today. Imagine this: let’s call her Angel. Her 93-year-old mother lives with her and has been in her home for several years. She is largely bed-bound. Angel’s husband just had open-heart surgery and will be home from the hospital tomorrow. Angel’s daughter, who resides in another state, was recently diagnosed with an auto-immune disease and calls her daily for advice and counsel. And Angel, who is in her 70s, has been told she will need a knee replacement both knees, in fact.

Stories like that are everywhere strike up a causal conversation with someone you meet at church or in a social gathering and their caregiving experiences, or care-needing history, will often surface quickly. I’ve been trying to do that lately give care, talk about caregiving. Listen to those who do it and gain insight.

I met recently with a group of knowing caregivers and care recipients. One woman who does 24/7 care for her elder and ailing sister said, “Only a caregiver totally understands, a trip to a grocery store is like a mini-vacation.”

Several people who heard her say that smiled knowingly. A weary-looking woman in her 50s added, “I am a caregiver. I do not have a problem with coffee. I have a problem without coffee.”

People laughed, some loudly, and quickly added their own poignant, humorous stories.

I am concluding that laughter gets one through a lot of life’s hurdles. Humor might be particularly important to caregivers. Many years ago, before I retired, when I was on the faculty at a university, I developed a presentation titled, “Laughter’s Healthy Benefits: The Healing Power of Laughter.” I was invited to give that presentation many times to caregiver groups. I just Googled it and the presentation is still online.

I am not a funny person by nature, and it was always a bit of a stretch for me to present my slides, but I was usually rewarded by chortling, giggling responses from audiences. People had their own jokes. In a couple of instances, it got a bit raucous. Raucous in a healthy way.

Research supports the thesis that laughter improves our overall sense of well-being. It reduces tension and creates a balm over depression and even anger. It lowers stress levels, decreases blood pressure, exercises the heart, strengthens the immune system, distracts from pain, and more. As a caregiver, what makes you laugh?

Steve Allen comments always make me laugh. Are you ready for this one? “Humor is a physical release one of four, actually. These include crying, yawning, orgasm and laughter. You can do them in succession. Just get the order right.”

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray in My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.