A few years ago a doctor told my father he had Alzheimer's. That’s a heavy diagnosis. A lot of thoughts comes with it. He could forget my name one day, or who I am entirely. He could forget who he is. We might have to take the car keys away from him. And on top of that there’s no cure. So...you know...that really sucks.
My father was very intentional with how he wanted to handle the news. He told my mom he wanted them to feel comfortable making jokes.
A lot of people view the use of humor in the face of tragedy as harmful. It’s a defense mechanism so you don’t have to deal with what’s going on. I know I’m guilty of this. Someone asks me a question and I throw a joke out to dodge having to answer it.
To my family, when it comes to Alzheimer's, humor is not a defensive maneuver. It’s an attack. It’s a step forward. It’s our way of saying “It’s ok to talk about this! We don’t have to be so somber.” Naturally we feel like we have to be on pins and needles around this topic. Humor is a weapon against the tension.
In their book, Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates, Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein put this way:
“Jokes are funny that way: they can make a devastating point while defusing anxiety at the same time.”
This is one of the reasons behind AWKWARD HONESTY NIGHTS. Let’s use humor to knock down the walls we put around the things “too devastating to talk about.”
Laughter is a powerful thing.
P.S. I asked my dad if I could tell this story. He gave his blessing but he might have forgot.