Friday, October 23, 2009

Humour Helps

“Laughter is the best medicine”. A very popular phrase that conveys the notion that one can almost laugh away one’s woes. Researchers say that they can show us physiological changes in the body that occur when we laugh. Endorphins are the new morphines, and groups have sprung up across the world that practice laughter the same way de-stressing enthusiasts pursue yoga or meditation.

I don’t know for sure if humour heals, but I do know for sure that humour helps. It has helped me in many ways. I think of myself as largely melancholic when in private, or in the company of very, very close loved ones, and somewhat sanguine when in the company of friends and acquaintances. Sometimes these seemingly diametrically opposed parts of my nature almost seem to clash… I cry one moment, and then I laugh the next! Terms like “bipolar” flash through my mind occasionally… :) but my friends tell me that they do the same… and I am comforted that I am normal.

Humour comes easily to me because I have long used it to hide my true feelings, to avoid confrontation, to get attention, to entertain others, and sometimes just to plain annoy people. It is only in recent years as I have lived with Crohn’s disease that I have come to perceive of humour as being helpful in the healing sense.

When I have been racked with pain, or when I am unable to eat or when I am so drained that I feel weak, I sometimes break down and cry. It’s one of my 2 coping mechanisms. I cry, and the tears, apart from washing my eyes as a friend once cheekily suggested, seem to relieve the burden I feel and carry in my body, my soul and my spirit. Being melancholic by nature though I can linger in this state of sadness if I allow myself to do so, but as a wife and mother I can’t allow myself to wallow. And so I employ my other coping mechanism, laughter, long practiced in my early days when I laughed more than I cried.

While the tears relieve me of my burdens, my laughter completely chases the lingering shadows away. I feel that endorphin rush, and the natural morphine of laughter not only numbs the pain for me, it nukes it as well… it is gone. For that moment in time I feel free.

I laugh easily over fairly silly things, largely I think because I have young children who find humour in even the most inane and banal of things. This is of course a nicer way of putting things than saying I am simple. Ha! Perhaps years of illness have made me so… it doesn’t take much to make me cry and similarly it doesn’t take much to make me laugh. In particular I love witty jokes and cheeky puns, and I enjoy witty repartee with my dear friends who engage and indulge me on occasion.

And so when I am faced with the pain of illness, and by extension the other pains of life such as the loss of a loved one, hurt, the ending of a friendship, grief etc I do not linger for long in sadness and melancholy, weeping and mourning. I do feel and do these, but I choose to see the journey ahead. A journey through time and the healing of some pains, while with others, like Crohn’s , the lack of healing. In choosing I decide to move to humour and laughter as a means of coping and surviving beyond the first flush of tears.

Humour helps me stay happy, and when I’m happy a whole lot of other people are happy too. Humour helps. I hope it helps you too!

Thanks for reading! :)


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

At Death's Doorstep

To be at death's doorstep, to me, means that I have seen death close up. I have been at death's doorstep on a few occasions before... I was there when my maternal grandmother, Ratan Kaur passed away, I visited with my dying maternal uncle, Mohan Singh Penu, in his last days battling cancer and I have attended funerals of friends and relatives who have left this world. At each of these occasions I was acutely aware of the meaning of what transpired before my eyes and I felt deeply the ending of each life.

My own father, Harbhajan Singh Gill, passed away on 26th September after being in a coma for 32 days following a heart attack. I visited him often and watched as death slowly descended upon him. Some prayed for a miracle, others prayed for a quick end to his suffering. Doctors told us he was not suffering or in pain. I never really felt sure of that. Every visit with him was very painful. I saw his once firm and well toned arm muscles deteriorate and his cheeks hollow out... I knew he was fading before my eyes.

The time that I had by my father's bedside was redeemed time... given to me to make my peace with him as a child of divorce even as he lay there battling death. What then to pray for when death visits in this slow manner? I prayed for peace. I prayed for love. I prayed for forgiveness, and I forgave. I prayed for healing... not of the body, but of the spirit. I prayed that his spirit would be at peace, and would know the love of God.

In my heart I knew that even if he was healed miraculously and his life extended by another 5, 10 or 15 years, his spirit, his inner man, would always need that peace, just as I do, and just as all of us do. Peace to leave this world and move to the next. Peace in knowing that one is loved and forgiven and missed and cherished no matter what has happened in the past. Peace that transcends all understanding, the very peace of God itself.

At death's doorstep by my father's bedside I cried many tears... of sadness, of regret, of longing, of hurt. But at death's doorstep I began my own journey towards joy, and peace, and love and healing. It will take time but I know I will get there.

How to journey down this path as someone who lives with chronic illness? My own body began to collapse under the emotional burden placed upon it, the stress of traveling so much, the change in diet, the lack of rest that came from visiting my father in Kuala Lumpur. I did what I could to manage it, but I felt the slow but sure deterioration of my own body even as my father experienced his. I knew, however, that mine was reversible while his was not.

I am in recovery mode. Resting a lot, and sleeping when I need to, and enjoying being back in my own space and eating food that suits me best. My father's condition is irreversible and permanent, lasting and unchanging... he is gone from this world forever, he is no more. Whatever it was that made him unique as an individual is gone with him, never to be seen or felt in its own special manner again. I am but a little part of him that endures. Battered and tired, worn out and exhausted from watching his slow demise and eventually sending him off on his final journey...

While I prayed for the healing of his spirit as I read to him and cried over him I am now seeking the healing of my emotions, my pain and my body from the rigours of the past 5-6 weeks. I hope to get there soon. I hope to be at a place where all is as well as can be, considering the failings of my body and the frailty of my emotions. I think I'll be okay. In fact, I know I will be, eventually. :)

Thanks for reading,