Archive for Sunday, November 9, 2003

Philosophy of life: Laugh when it hurts

November 9, 2003


I never realized what my philosophy of life was until I heard Mike Myers ("Cat in the Hat," "Austin Powers," "Wayne's World") tell Barbara Walters in an interview that he shared his late father's philosophy: "Nothing is so bad that you can't laugh about it."

And nothing is. Perhaps not in the midst of the travail, but at least after time has played its healing role. The problem is that there are people who decide how others should react to tragedy and sorrow and make the judgment that the sufferer's reaction isn't valid if it doesn't conform to the observer's idea of appropriate behavior. Because laughter is the weapon with which I -- and most of those near and dear to me -- confront tragedy, I suspect we are often viewed as unfeeling ... or maybe just too stupid to fully understand the situation.

When my friend Darlene's father was struck by a car and killed, it was the most devastating experience of her young adult life. Still, as she and her sister were examining his effects, she discovered a gray hair in his wallet. "Look, Shirley," she sobbed, "I found a piece of Papa!"

Darlene had to explain that line to me. It was, she said, from a country music song about a man killed by a train whose children walked along the railroad track trying to "find a piece of Papa."

Given the macabre subject of that tune, I'm wondering if there is a country music song about Alzheimer's disease. If not, perhaps the following story will spark a songwriter to compose one. When my friend Peg's mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, it was tragic; when her mother had occasions when she didn't recognize Peg, it was heartbreaking. But Peg didn't wallow in her pain; with a stiff upper lip, she remarked, "Well at least Mom is meeting a lot of new people, even if one of them is me!"

My late friend Renee, while terminally ill, was badly treated by a businessman. But did she cry or whine about his boorish behavior or be hateful to him in return? She did not. She simply quietly mused, "I wonder if a person with a brain tumor can buy a gun."

She later regaled her friends with her fantasy and had us rolling on the floor with laughter when she said, "I'm standing before the judge who has just sentenced me to life in prison and I'm saying, 'So ... you're giving me LIFE? That's more than the doctors can do!'"

My nephew Mike inherited the family tendency to look on the funny side of life ... even when he has to look very hard to see it. Now 30-something, Mike was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 25. He's been bedfast for years, fed through a stomach tube and incapable of moving on his own, but when a burly caregiver lifted him in his arms, Mike looked at him with a mock-adoring gaze, batted his eyelashes and simpered, "I wuv you!"

And each time I conclude a visit with Mike by saying, "I'll be back to see you soon," he always grins from his high-tech hospital bed as he states the obvious, "I'll be here."

When son Greg, then fresh out of college, and I attended the funeral of his friend's father, we stood in church and mouthed the words to an unfamiliar hymn. I only remember one phrase from that hymn -- "when I'm buried 'neath the sod" -- and the reason I remember it is because when we reached Greg's car, tearful though we were, we cackled when he said, "I thought the next line of that hymn would be, "I'm six feet farther from God."

Greg's little black Mercury Topaz was showroom new, his first vehicle not purchased by his father, and he was quite protective of it. As we sat in his car waiting for the procession to the cemetery to begin, a large woman parked next to us slammed her door into the side of Greg's car so hard that she rocked it. The muscle in Greg's jaw twitched and jerked, and when he finally spoke, he again caused me to laugh hysterically when he vowed, "As soon as the service is over, I'm going to find her car and kick the hell out of it!"

Clearly, in my family, tears and laughter are closely related. I'm betting the same applies to Mike Myers' family, and I hope he's as grateful for his inherited philosophy of life as I am for mine.

Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence. Information about purchasing her new book, "Life Is More Fun When You Live It Jest for Grins," is available by calling 843-2577 or e-mailing

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