Self Caring

Caregiving Isn't Funny -- Sometimes, It's Hilarious

Last updated: Jul 11, 2011


There's absolutely nothing funny about dementia, cancer, Parkinson's disease, COPD, et. al. Except sometimes, there is.

What I mean is that terrible diseases are no laughing matters, yet they're rife with small absurdities, comic insights, and nervous energy that we often can't help releasing as quips and giggles.

A new British Alzheimer's Society poll finds that dementia is the most joked-about medical condition. Although almost a quarter of those surveyed said they regularly hear dementia jokes, only 8 percent believe it's acceptable to make fun of dementia. The society's president called this prevalence of dementia humor "shocking."

Is it shocking, or sanity saving, to laugh at horrible diseases?

Does being a caregiver give you a special pass?

I'm thinking of my grandmother's elaborate ruses to disguise her incontinence -- like carefully removing soiled clothes to "air them" on the hot radiator, which only worsened the smell. Exasperating, but funny. Or the Keystone Cops routine it took for four of us to change my mom's bed while she was in it during home hospice. Or the moment my dad gazed into the eyes of his dying wife and said, "I'll always remember you!" "¦ to which she replied, "No you won't! You can't remember anything lately!" We kids all stared at each other in disbelief until we saw our parents smiling affectionately at each other -- and then we all cracked up.

I'm thinking, too, of the uneasy jokes so many of us have made about having Alzheimer's when we can't remember why we entered a room. Not like there are many distractions on our minds....

Even tasteless jokes ease stress. It's the whole point of gallows humor.

Too bad these outbursts often leave us feeling guilty or embarrassed, or even downright inappropriate. Sickness may be no laughing matter, but laughing is healthy. And if you're a stressed-out caregiver, you need all the sources of health-stoking you can get.