Unexpected humorous moments are common in caregiving. In fact, a senior’s unprompted remarks and unintentional antics can enliven a caregiver’s daily routine.
Even in the most dire of circumstances, elder care professionals insist that it is okay, even helpful, to let out a good laugh. “Not only is laughing alright, it’s absolutely necessary,” says Cindy Laverty, a former caregiver who founded The Care Company and The Cindy Laverty talk show.
When Laverty was thrust into caregiving unexpectedly, she had to learn how to navigate the complex and overwhelming world of responsibilities. Through that journey, she discovered how she could not only survive, but also thrive. Finding and holding onto humorous stories can help you keep an upbeat perspective in spite of the challenges of being a caregiver, she explains.
“We go into caregiving with this big, dark cloud hanging over us because it’s so stressful. When we go in with that attitude, it’s bound to stay that way. When we’re having a horrible day, we must remember that a good day is sure to follow. Even in the midst of those horrible days, there are funny moments that happen. Recognize and appreciate those moments," Laverty urges.
Laughing Together Is Therapeutic
Take Alzheimer's disease (AD) for example. It is an awful condition, and there is nothing funny about it, but there are funny moments that happen. When you laugh, you’re not laughing at your loved one with AD. You’re laughing because the moment is funny. “If we don't follow the whole spectrum of emotion, we get lost in the oppression of a chronic disease,” Laverty explains.
Your laughter can also send a positive, comforting message to the elder. If you don't get upset during a challenging moment, it’s likely that they won't either. Laughing is a fantastic tension-relieving exercise for the caregiver and person with Alzheimer's, who is greatly influenced by ambient tensions and emotions surrounding them.
Moments of Humor
When Laverty was caring for her father-in-law following open-heart surgery and a stroke, one of his favorite activities was golfing. Of course, he could no longer hit the greens, so the Lavertys set up a chipping station for him in the backyard. “He couldn’t balance well, due to the stroke. When he swung the golf club, I had to squat down and hold his belt so he wouldn't fall. One time, he did fall… right on top of me. We ended up in a very compromising position. His response was, ‘We have to stop meeting like this.’ We both just cracked up. It lightened up the moment, and turned an awkward situation into a hilarious one,” she laughs.
Laverty’s mother-in-law also provided some comic relief during her bout with AD. She was missing her four front teeth—each one lost when she bit various home health workers. “If someone bent over or got too close, she would bite them,” Laverty says. “Needless to say, that is a dangerous and unwanted behavior. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get her to stop. Getting a caregiver to stick around wasn’t easy, but you can’t deny it, the situation was funny.”
Laverty also found ways to lighten up stressful moments like bath time. Her mother-in-law refused to bathe, because her condition made her afraid of water. One evening, Laverty ran a warm bath, added some bubbles to the water, lit some candles, played a Dean Martin CD and poured a glass of non-alcoholic champagne (her mother-in-law’s favorite drink back in the day). “She got right in the bathtub, but then we couldn’t get her out!” Laverty recalls.
Simple Joys Make Life Worth Living
Laverty reminds us that caregiving is our final walk with our loved one. We must ask ourselves some very important questions to understand why we took on this responsibility and what we want to come out of this time together. What do you want this journey to look like? Do you want it to be miserable and laden with despair, or do you want it to be a time in which special memories are made? “At the end of the day, as mad as I got at my in-laws when I was caregiving, I’d give anything if I could just hold their hands one more time,” admits Laverty.
Humor in the Media
Even the media have picked up on the fact that caregiving can be funny. For example, Fox Television’s hit TV sitcom “Raising Hope” stars Cloris Leachman as Maw Maw, the great-grandmother and once the rock of the family who now vacillates between moments of lucidity and dementia. In her mind, the house is infested with mongooses, she’s cheating on her dead husband and it just might be World War II.
It’s not just made-for-TV moments that have grabbed the media spotlight. In a real-life example, Justin Halpern moved in with his 73-year-old father after hitting hard financial times. He soon discovered that, with old age, his father had lost all inhibitions and said whatever was on his mind. Halpern, who describes his dad as “like Socrates, but angrier and with worse hair,” began writing down his father’s rants and posting them to a Twitter account. Now more than a million people follow Halpern’s philosophical musings on Twitter. As a result, Halpern was offered a book deal. In less than three months, the aptly named “Sh*t My Dad Says” made it to the New York Times Bestseller List.
Humor is a Necessity
Laverty urges all caregivers to give up the role of the martyr. “If you listen to the news, then you know that caregivers are supposed to feel overwhelmed, exhausted and without hope,” she says. “When that mentality takes over, it’s a recipe for disaster. Don’t fall into victimization! I urge you to avoid adopting this mentality. It’s a horrible place to be, and the longer you stay there, the more difficult it becomes to get out!”
Caregiving is hard, but during the tough times, it can be too easy to forget the importance of humor. Etch the funny memories in your spirit, and hold them in your heart. When your loved one is gone, you’ll be glad you did.
Read real-life upbeat stories and share your own funny experiences in the AgingCare Caregiver Forum: What is the funniest thing your aging parent has said to you lately?