67: Laughter Through the Tears

67: Laughter Through the Tears

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

Laughter Through the Tears

Every survival kit should include a sense of humor.

~Author Unknown

As a group facilitator for caregivers of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, we struggled through some very intense moments at our weekly meetings together. As each person related her personal story, the atmosphere of sadness was palpable. The saving grace for our group were those moments of humor that cut through the shared sorrow.

This afternoon, group had been especially painful. One woman grieved over the seeming injustice of life. Her husband had been a brilliant physicist and now he didn’t know how to get dressed. Another member was sick with worry when her mom somehow wandered away from home and was lost for hours. Frankly, it was an emotionally exhausting session.

The last to share her story was “Evelyn,” whose husband was stricken with the disease fairly early in life. She began sort of hesitantly, looking as though maybe her experience was not appropriate to share. “My problem, I guess, is unusual,” she said, nervously. “This is about our sexual relations. Is it okay to talk about it?”

I assured her that what is said here, stays here. Then I added, “As long as the issue is related to your husband’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and you are comfortable with it, go ahead.”

“Well my husband has always had a strong sex drive. He had it when he was healthy and he has it now.” She paused. “The problem is that now his short-term memory is gone.” One of the group interrupted Evelyn. “So how does his loss of memory affect him? Like he has forgotten how to have sex?”

“Good grief, no,” exclaimed Evelyn. “The problem is that we will have sex in the morning and by lunchtime he forgets that we had sex. He will approach me longingly and say ‘Honey, c’mon, we haven’t had sex for days.’ He is insatiable.”

For what seemed like an eternity, there was silence. I was trying to think of something appropriate to say, but for the life of me, I couldn’t.

Evelyn blushed. “I shouldn’t have brought it up,” she said.

Then from the other side of the room, I heard a suppressed laugh. Evelyn at first looked askance at the offender. Then someone else tittered. Evelyn herself started to laugh.

Before you knew it, our professional group had lost all restraint, breaking into unrestrained laughter. I tried to regain control. “Oh, Evelyn I’m sorry, that must be…”

“Wonderful?” interrupted one woman. Another piped up with, “I wish my George had that problem.” Other semi-ribald remarks followed, with Evelyn, by this time, bent over with laughter.

I don’t remember if we ever solved Evelyn’s problem that day, but I do know that the cloud of depression that had hung over us was gone. Despite our pain, we found we could laugh at ourselves. The laughter had broken through our despair, as we passed around the box of Kleenex to dry our tears of laughter.

~Hank Mattimore

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