Tapping into the Power of Humor

I had some great mentors who showed me how their power of humor got them through even some of their hardest times.

When my father was dying of cancer he decided to make arrangements for his own funeral. After he tricked my sister into driving him to the funeral home he rolled himself in and up to the funeral director. “Hi, I’m dying of cancer. Do you give senior citizen discounts?” The funeral director laughed and said no one had ever asked for that before. But no.

And from that day until he died about a year later he laughingly told all friends and relatives that they better enjoy the organist at his funeral. He was “forced” to pay for her services even though he considered her “a showboater. She plays in church like she would play in a supper club. At least I won’t have to listen to her.” After the first line of the opening hymn which she held a note for an extra long time most of the mourners actually giggled.

My father-in-law was a tail gunner in a B-17 that was shot down over Germany during WWII. He was sent to Stalag Luft IV that was in the east of Germany practically in Poland. As the Russian Army approached the German staff, not wanting to be captured themselves, force marched all of the prisoners west across Germany through one of the hardest winters in history with temperatures down to -13F. A march that went on for over 500 miles. He credited his survival to volunteering to bury those that didn’t in order to get a piece of potato in his once daily “broth”.

He didn’t tell the stories often, but when he did he still would lighten them up with humor. He cautioned his grandchildren with a wink to never sleep under a hayloft of men packed above you who can’t get up during the night when nature calls. And he was happy and proud that when interrogated about the bombing run he was on when captured he explained that he didn’t know the targets because as the tail gunner he didn’t care and would use the time during the mission briefings to catch up on his sleep.

As he aged, he became almost blind from macular degeneration and later was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease, a brain disease which causes hallucinations. Luckily his didn’t seem to be terrifying. And he liked telling about what he was clearly “seeing”. Sometimes he was back at work. Sometimes he would roam and explore new “neighborhoods” that were actually hallways at the facility he was staying.

It’s this ability to find humor in bad times and situations that I’m proud to emulate.

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