Oscar Wilde wrote that, “Life is too important to take seriously.”  This is a concept that resonates with most of us in our industry.  Every day we are challenged to meet the emotional needs of our clients while balancing our business and financial needs.  We are pushed to tend to the piles of paperwork which seem to grow each time we pick up the phone.  At the same time we must truly practice the art of presence each time we meet with a family.  Our double edged sword is the knowledge that each day may contain the unexpected.  This keeps our professional life from becoming routine, yet also creates situations where having a plan for the day is impossible.  Many of us have experienced periods of stress where the workload of the gotta-do’s are not going to get done unless we stay late or get to the office early.  We work in an industry where the time clock is never punched and there is no such thing as a true day off as long as you remain in your city.  And the strange thing is: we would not have it any other way.  This industry gets into our blood.  There is immense satisfaction in knowing that we are able to help our clients at the worst moment of their life.  We work in a field that most people avoid even thinking about, much less face each day: death.   Yet, for us, there is simply no better way to make a living.  

So is there a method we can use to help us to cope with the daily stressors, the emotional drain and the business worries?  Is it possible to achieve a healthy balance between the serious nature of the job and the desire to have fun in life?  How can we care for ourselves as much as we care for our clients?  I suggest you use Laughtercare.  We have all heard of gallows humor or humor used in the face of death.  Why does this exist?  Studies have shown that laughter is a great way to relieve stress.  I am currently conducting a scientific study into the relationship between humor and coping with the death of a loved one.  The study should point out what we have already observed.  Laughing helps us to deal with the tragedies of life.

However laughter helps us on so many levels – physical, emotional and mental.  This simple act which we have been doing since we were babies, is hardwired into us to create healing within the body.  When you laugh your levels of cortisol and other stress hormones are reduced.  Your blood pressure rises when you are laughing, yet lowers following a bout of laughter.  Fighting a cold or other illness?  Start laughing because laughter stimulates your immune system and helps relieve respiratory illnesses.  Many hospitals are now incorporating a humor channel on their in-house television stations.  Looking for a new practice to add to your exercise routine? Mix up the ha-ha’s, the ho-ho’s and the hee-hee’s and you will work different muscles in your body.  Wake up your brain by taking a joy break.  Just a few minutes of laughing or playing helps to ignite both lobes of the brain.  Oxygen flows in and helps to make you more alert and ready to tackle any challenge.  Have a joy basket in your office and fill it with simple toys like bubbles, yo-yo’s, hand-held electronic games and other trinkets that allow your inner child to play.

All of this is more than just child’s play; it is a prescription for healthier living.  Stress is the underlying cause of many diseases and unchecked can wreak havoc with our happiness.  This is why you must develop a Humor Plan of Action (HPOA.)  In order to reap the benefits of laughter, you need to laugh.  Therapeutic laughter is based on the idea that you can laugh for no reason.  Even simulated or fake laughter allows the brain to release all of the beneficial chemicals in order to achieve the above results.  So you can wake up each morning and just start laughing.  Join a laughter club.  Many towns have Certified Laughter Leaders who run regular laughter sessions.  These groups use deep breathing, stretching, movement and the sound of laughter to help you feel great!  If you live in an area with high traffic, keep a bottle of bubbles in your car. While you sit and wait, just roll down your window or open up your sunroof and blow some bubbles for your fellow commuters to enjoy. Play funny books on tape or CDs in your car stereo.  At home watch funny movies or sitcoms instead of the news or disturbing shows.  Read funny books or save funny e-mails to re-read when you need a humor break.  It does not matter what you do as long as you have a plan to surround yourself with things that are funny to you.

How can you use this knowledge when working with your families?  First of all understand that there is a place for laughter when grieving as much as there is a time for tears.  In fact tears of laughter and tears of grief have a different chemical composition.  Our bodies know what we need in order to release our stress.   It is not your job to make the family you are serving laugh.  Sometimes the discomfort of being in the presence of deep grief creates a desire to lighten the mood with jokes.  This is not the purpose of therapeutic laughter.  Healthy laughter in the bereaved originates from the mourner, not from outside forces.  If a person needs to cry, our job is to be there and allow them their emotions.  While they may feel that they need to be strong for others and act as if they will be okay, our clients should feel safe enough with us to authentically feel their emotions.  The healing benefits of laughter should be understood and related to our clients at the appropriate time. It is okay to laugh.  In fact for the bereaved, laughter can boost their depleted immune system, relieve the stress and help them to concentrate better.  This is the gift that laughter provides.  It is not about telling jokes or being a comedian.  It is simply the act of giggling, guffawing or chortling because in doing so healing takes place and joy replaces stress for both you and your clients.