“You know, sometimes being your daddy is not exactly a piece of cake!”

My son Andy was 3 at the time. I have long forgotten what annoying behavior prompted my outburst, but I remember his response clearly: His blue eyes popped wide open and he burst into a belly laugh. I couldn’t help joining in. It wasn’t much of a disciplinary moment, but his reaction to my grouchy but picturesque remark was a perfect tension reliever.

A year or two later Andy’s mother and I were going through a divorce. At that time my soon-to-be-ex and I were both working part-time transplanting seedlings at a perennial farm. Our employer, Bill, who was as much a friend as a boss, was aware of our situation and took care to schedule us on alternating days. Had our roles been reversed, I would have expressed my sympathy to Bill by saying something like: “Sorry to hear you’re going through this; if you want to talk about it over a beer, let me know.”

Bill had a different approach: “Hey, Harry, better check out the potting soil real carefully – Claire was here yesterday and there might be broken glass in it!”

As physician and professional clown Patch Adams tells us, laughter is sometimes the medicine we most need. Although humor can sometimes be cruel, and jokes in poor taste, a good laugh can be immensely healing to body and soul. I believe no topic, no matter how weighty or serious, should be off limits to laughter.

Soon after that summer at the perennial farm, my beloved grandmother passed away at the age of 87. At the wake (she was Irish and would have scoffed at the term “visiting hours”), I stepped up to her casket to pay my last respects. There at her feet lay an unopened glass bottle of Coca-Cola. This was appropriate: She was passionate about the beverage and her fridge was never without a six-pack or two. In an effort to suppress my laughter I crinkled my eyes, clamped my lips shut, shuddered a little and probably convinced my nearby relatives that I was breaking down with grief. Later that day, as I compared notes with siblings and cousins, our conversation proceeded like this:


“Did you see that Coke bottle in Grandma’s casket?”

“Yeah, who put it there? Don’t they know the pressure can build up and the bottle can explode?”

“Maybe, but that’s not gonna hurt Grandma at this point!”

Irreverent, yes. But I know Grandma would have approved.

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