The Best Medicine

The overwhelming demands of caregiving frequently exhaust the caregiver physically, mentally, and spiritually. Often, you get so caught up in ministering to another, you forget to eat, sleep, exercise-and laugh. Yes, laugh!

“How can I laugh at a time like this?” many ask. “Is it okay?”

Not only is it okay, it’s imperative.

Laughing is one of the most effective, yet forgotten, coping skills. Medical studies prove laughter lowers blood pressure, increases lung and heart performances, decreases stress, exercises abdominal and facial muscles, boosts immune systems and even increases the production of tumor and virus-killing cells. Besides all that, it’s free, has no side effects, and feels good!

Laughter, like other rhythmic actions, releases endorphins– are our bodies’ “feel good medicines”–in our brains. Think about the last time you enjoyed a hearty belly laugh. Remember, when you finally caught your breath, how good you felt? How much lighter your chest was? How there seemed to be, literally, a weight lifted from your shoulders?

I’ve been privileged to read thousands of true stories from caregivers. Time and time again they shared how laughter helped them through their toughest times.

A loving daughter sat for months at the bedside of her ailing father who was confused and rarely spoke. Still, she chatted away, trying to communicate with him. One day she ran out of things to say, so began singing. Unfortunately, she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but crooned, “I love you. You love me. We’re a great big family.”

Her daddy opened his eyes and spoke for the first time in days. “I love you too, honey,” he said. “But you don’t have to sing about it.”

Laughter, she wrote, helped her reclaim some joy in what seemed to be a hopeless situation.

Obviously, we should never laugh at another person, yet laughing with them can be a blessing to both. Many infirmed people insist that just hearing laughter boosts their spirits and happy heart rate. When we laugh at someone else’s silly antics, they often laugh along with us, offering them, too, all the healthy benefits mentioned above.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to find the humor in a situation. Yet to endure the daily challenges, that’s exactly what caregivers must seek.

Terry, a grown granddaughter, went home to help her mother care for Grandma. Heartbroken by her mental deterioration, she attempted to add some joy to Grandma’s life by taking her to a buffet restaurant. There, the only food Grandma recognized and selected was red Jello. Even so, the two were enjoying a pleasant lunch when suddenly Grandma jerked Terry under the table yelling, “Indians! We’ve gotta get out of here!” Heading for “cover,” Grandma crawled on her hands and knees across the restaurant floor with her purse and skirt -and granddaughter on all fours-trailing behind her. When they arrived at the front door the manager looked down and asked in disbelief, “Is everything all right ladies?” Grandma stood, brushed herself off and said, “Yes, now that you’re here Marshall Dillon.” By now her granddaughter was laughing so hard she couldn’t stand up! Grandma tugged her to her feet, brushed her off and pulled her toward the door saying, “Come on, Terry, we’ve got to get out of here-you’re embarrassing me!”

Instead of being sad and mortified, Terry embraced the moment and laughed–then Grandma laughed–and their joy connected them.

If there are too few laughing occasions during your days, create them. (Not necessarily by crawling on all fours in public!) As you care for someone, think back to what used to make them laugh. And what used to make you laugh? Recall the favorite “I Love Lucy” episodes, knock-knock jokes, or funny family escapades and reintroduce them into your lives.

Remember, laughter soothes the soul and weary mind. It is, indeed, the best medicine.

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