We sat in the Ronald McDonald family room at Shands Children’s Hospital, sequestered for the day, waiting for the pediatric cardiologist to operate on my middle daughter’s 8 day old baby girl. All of my family gathered. We ached with worry, skittered around the edges of dread, squeezed hands and whispered prayers. We also laughed. We have that ability–to tease, to banter, to tell a familiar story, to find sweetness and humor wherever we are. All of us, together, getting through this wonderful and awful day, my daughters, son in-law and husband confined in such a small space, with so much at stake, and yet there we were, healing our own hearts.
I’ve been here before, with both parents, through back surgery, abdominal surgery, heart surgery, through kidney infections, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I’ve walked this too-familiar road, but never like this.
We drank nasty coffee, the TV on although none of us watched it, flipped through waiting room magazines, covered in blankets, our legs thrown over one another. The hours dug in long and hard. We’d go through swells of fears and eddies of faith. Some of us took walks, others tried to nap. We played on iPads, shared apps, got fast-food, the only choice we had.
We checked the time, then checked it again. In the lull of the afternoon, our daughter gets a call and steps into the hall. Moments later she flings open the door, her eyes and face already swollen from days of sorrow now blotched and red with fresh tears.
I sprung, arms open…oh god…
The surgery was over. It went well. Our tiny baby’s heart is repaired.
Relief poured up and out of us all. We became a geyser of tears and laughter, cheers and hugs.
If it weren’t for the break that humor gave us, the ability to siphon off some of the dread, the sharing of strength and solace, I don’t know how any of us would have made it through that day. For a caregiver, or family or friend of a caregiver, perhaps this is your greatest gift to give.
How does humor heal? New research has shown that it’s a natural pain reliever and does wonders for our immune system. Laughter is nature’s re-calibrator. Most of all, it’s contagious. And don’t worry about it being inappropriate to smile or laugh when life is at its worst. It’s a testament to the human spirit, to hold the “scary stuff” in one hand, and to balance it with joy, with sweetness, with laughter, in the other.
Even in the darkest of hours, laugh, tease, play and tell a story.