I suppose it’s the same with many families, that humor is used as a coping mechanism during unbearably sad times. I’m only supposing this because I am not part of many families. Only my own. My father was the master of this way of coping. Not sure if his humor during the worst of times was to cover up his own despair or was to attempt somehow to make those around him feel better. Probably a bit of both.
The darkest, most unbearable time for the Boshamer family was when my sister Beth was killed in a car wreck. She was only 22. She was the youngest in the family, and the light of all of our lives. I didn’t know how mom and dad were going to survive losing her. Getting through the next several years after Beth’s death clearly took it’s toll on both of them. Getting through just the days after her death was surreal. Dad’s humor colored those days. The night before the funeral Dad had to go to the emergency room because of kidney stones. He was instructed to take a prescription that would, if I remember correctly, help shrink or break up the stone or stones, and he was to drink plenty of water. They told him to return the next morning for reasons I cannot recall. The next morning, the day of my sisters funeral, my father rose early and dressed for his visit to the doctor. As he walked down the drive to get the morning newspaper, he began picking up small rocks on the pavement.
I drove Dad to the hospital that morning and he let me in on his secret. Back at the house the rest of the family was beginning to stir. Mom was in the bathroom brushing her teeth. Clarence walked into her bedroom and heard her crying. He walked into the bathroom to comfort her as she stood in front of the sink sobbing. “We’re going to make it through this Mom.” She held up a small sandwich bag and said “Look what your father passed, he must have been in such pain.”
Dad had taken the few small stones he’d found in the driveway, put them in a plastic sandwich bag, poured on top of them a little tobasco sauce and a bit of ketchup (to make them look a bit bloody) and left the bag on the sink as a joke. As he was telling me what he’d done, during our car ride to the hospital, his shoulders shook up and down, as if they were trying to control his laughter to a minimum. He was a very funny man. I don’t think he realized that his joke would make Mom cry over his supposed pain of “passing” those huge stones. I think Tom was in on the joke and revealed to Mom that the rocks in the bag were, indeed, simply rocks. Anyway, it was that sort of humor that I was raised around. From my father I learned to look for the brighter side of all things. It was a good thing to learn, but, I suppose at times, pushed us into denial of our troubles.
Raising Doug as a young boy was delightful.There were tough times, as with raising any kid. After Doug was diagnosed with schizophrenia I had a better understanding of his quirky personality and at times just had to laugh at some of the things he said or did.
Doug only had his drivers license a short time before the state realized they may have made a mistake. Their first clue was when Doug started pulling police cars over. Sometimes he’d pull up behind a patrol car and flash his lights until the policeman would pull over. Other times, he’d pull up beside them and ask if he could please talk to them for a minute. Then, when the officer would get out of his car Doug would say “I just need to know if you’re looking for me for anything.” “Should I be?” would be the normal response. Doug would always ask if they could just check their computers and see if he was in trouble with anybody. It was crazy. You had to laugh. He actually never got a ticket. He did have a few fender benders.
My friend Jackie was over visiting one afternoon. She and I sat talking in my den as Doug left to go pick up his girl friend for a date. About five minutes after he left, he came back into the den and asked Jackie is she would mind moving her car. Jackie came right back in the house asking Doug “Why didn’t you ask me to move it BEFORE you hit it?” He hadn’t just tapped it’s bumper with his, he creamed the entire front drivers panel of her car, trying to push it out of the way. Not funny at all, I know. But what was funny, was that he so calmly came in and asked Jackie (after the fact) if she would mind coming and moving her car.
One of the first Thanksgiving’s we shared with Doug in a while was a few years ago. His therapist had been working closely with him on his coping skills. She’d taught him that if during a social situation he felt a bit overwhelmed he should excuse himself and step outside for a few minutes and take a few deep breaths to calm himself down. During our family gathering that pleasant Thanksgiving Day Doug must have excused himself at least 50 times. Even if he wasn’t in the same room with the rest of us, he’d all the sudden stick his head in the room and say “I’ll be out on the porch.” It was sad to see how many times he was stressing, but became a bit humorous the number of times he visited the porch. We use that line now when we start to stress here at home. “I’ll be on the porch.” It breaks the tension.
I have laughed at so many things Doug has done. Not laughed AT him, but laughed about him. Because it helps me cope. It’s kind of like a tragic comedy. Poor thing, he has no sense of humor himself. He’s used the same tired joke for years, because it’s all he can remember, and I guess because he thinks it’s hilarious. He’ll ask a stranger on the street… “Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9.”
I started a joke, which started the whole world crying,
but I didn’t see that the joke was on me, oh no.~ The BeeGees
Learn to laugh at yourself. Find humor in life. It helps make the days so much more memorable. Look for the lighter side.