Healing Without Laughter


Laughter heals.

Imagine a world without laughter. Smiling and giggling just make us feel good. Even science backs this up. When we laugh, we release endorphins, lower stress levels, increase blood flow throughout the body, strengthen our immune system, and best of all, we get to experience a natural high that sends us to a better place. For the past week, while I nursed my daughter back to health after she had agonizing gum surgery, she and I had to bottle up our laughs to allow the incisions in her mouth to heal––not to mention it hurt like hell. This was no easy feat, particularly because we share a similar sense of humor and know just the right lines to induce the giggles.

The only thing to do to keep her mind off the pain and discomfort was to watch somber and serious television shows. Together, we binged two and a half seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale. Although there’s nothing funny about a dystopian society where women are oppressed and treated like slaves, I had to bite my tongue from making funny jokes referencing the show. Prior to watching it, I had seen two Saturday Night Live skits about The Handmaid’s Tale, which at the time I didn’t understand, but now that I had seen the show, I wanted to watch the skits again with my daughter; however, that wasn’t an option. When it was time to pick another show to watch, we scrolled through a list of rom-coms, but then we remembered that comedy was too risky, so along with everything else humorous, that too was off limits. I wanted to suggest a documentary on slugs or a comparative study about paint drying, but I kept my jokes to myself in case a smile burst forth.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that she was banned from laughter, could barely eat, had difficulty sleeping, looked like a chipmunk with her swollen cheeks, and was in perpetual pain—we were subjected to sobering television. And, as for me, I became her Martha (a reference to The Handmaid’s Tale), slaving to her every need and feeling sympathy pangs for her suffering. I tried to help put her situation into perspective, lecturing her that she was going to be okay, she was going to heal, and thankfully, this wasn’t a life-altering condition. She heard me, but my words didn’t ease her discomfort. Under any other circumstances, when she’s upset about something, I can make her laugh at some point, adding light to whatever teenage drama she is experiencing at the time. Not having the freedom to release a good chuckle made her recovery that much more trying, and it broke my heart that she wore a perpetual pout on her beautiful face, like petals of a flower struggling to bloom.

Without the sweet taste of laughter, life had become bland as we swallowed our grins and giggles, waiting for the day when we could let it all out. Meanwhile, to combat the dismal mood in our home, we looked for joy in other ways. Holding her hand or rubbing her back, I told her how much I loved her. Sitting outside, we admired the mountain scenery, smelled the fresh air, and basked in the warm, summer sun. Even though she couldn’t bite into a sandwich or a chip and was limited to a soft, mushy diet, she could still lick a spoonful of Nutella and a dish of ice cream with salted caramel chocolate fudge. Smiling on the inside, I watched her savor the treats. In time, she will heal, and when she does you better believe that she and I are going to laugh so hard we double over from a stomachache. And when that moment arrives, it will be the most delicious pain we’ve ever felt.

About Lori Gurtman
Lori Gurtman is an author living in Aspen, Colorado.

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