At first, the laughter at my mom's funeral seemed inappropriate. And yet, as friends and relatives shared numerous memories, we found ourselves smiling, and yes, laughing. Sometimes, laughing with tears.
Later, as a member of the Association for Applied & Therapeutic Humor, I learned how important laughter is in the grieving process. In the midst of our pain we search our memories for happy images of our loved ones. "This is how I want to remember them," you might say. You may not realize that your brain, particularly your amygdala, is a warehouse of memories - both of happiness and trauma. Bringing those happy memories forward and reminiscing with friends and family doesn't dishonor your grief. In fact, Rose Kennedy described her grief as never really going away, but that it gets covered with a scar. Happy memories and laughter can help that process.
Several years ago, I brought what would become "Taking a Laughter Break for the Health of It," to a group of parents whose children were suffering from addiction issues. Some of the parents had lost that child, and were intensely grieving.
I led them gently through laughter exercises, giving them permission to laugh for the health of it, to release feel-good hormones, to boost their resilience, and feel safe doing so. After the class, a number of people thanked me and I felt like I had helped them a bit.
However, as I approached my car, one of the moms stopped me. She had tears rolling down her face, and was sobbing. Immediately I felt that I must have done something wrong in the presentation and hadn't helped her feel relief. As I started to apologize, she reached out, grabbed my hand, and said, "No, no! These are happy tears! This is the first time I have laughed since we lost our son. And now I am remembering how funny he was, how he made us laugh. Especially during the holidays. I wasn't going to decorate this year, but I will now, remembering how my son enjoyed it."
Then, we shared happy tears together.