Brody: The healing power of laughter

Published 9:51 am Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The other night, while waiting for bedtime to roll around, I had the TV on to try to stay awake for the magic moment in the program. However, I was really fighting to stay awake and was almost out of it.

I truly wasn’t following the story on TV when something happened on the show that struck me as the funniest plot twist I had seen in years and I burst into laughter.

The more I laughed, the funnier it got. There I was, sitting alone in my little apartment, half asleep, a cat on either side of me looking at me as if I had finally crossed the line of sanity.

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Have you ever laughed, and after a few moments, you can’t even recall what is so funny? Every thing is funny. Right down to how my cats were assessing my mental state. I could not stop.

Finally, I just turned off the blasted TV and, stumbling and weak from laughing, I fell into bed.

Could I sleep? Heck no.

The memory part of my brain kicked into high gear as I began to relive some of the funniest experiences of my life.

One kept replaying and would not let me lapse into sleep.

I want to share it with you because, as I recall it, the experience was not only comical but highly inappropriate and a bit complicated.

It involved my dad, my sweet smart daddy whose brain had fallen prey to an enemy called Alzheimer’s.

He and my mother lived in Abbey Delray, a life care facility.

One afternoon, my mother and I were in their swimming pool with the express purpose of making my dad exercise his legs, desperately trying to keep him out of the inevitable wheelchair.

He had never liked water or swimming or pools or anything to do with exercise. If you combined this with extreme stubbornness, well, you get the picture.

Being stubborn is a family trait, so we were as determined about this as he was.

I wish you could have seen him as we headed to the pool. He was wearing a blousy blue swimsuit, blue and iridescent green rubber shoes, an Atlanta Braves shirt, Florida Marlins cap and funky dark glasses.

He was a cool dude and he griped every step of the way, saying things like, “I am not getting in that water,” and “The sun is burning me right through my shirt,” and “You’re killing me!”

But on we trudged.

At the edge of the pool, we removed his shirt and led him into the water. He shrieked, “This water is freezing! I can’t get in it! Why do you hate me?”

Once he got his footing, he did walk back and forth in the water and finally sat down on an immersed step and did some more leg exercises.

He seemed to forget how much he hated it all and in three feet of water, he walked willingly.

But then it happened. He lost his footing and sort of fell backwards.

Mother and I were right there and broke his fall but he could not get his feet back on the pool floor.

So envision this. Here he was, his bulbous, big blue swimsuit filled with air, making him float. He looked for all the world like a blue whale in shallow water. Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was the look on his face, but I started to laugh.

Mother and I were trying to push his blue and green feet downward but then my mother started to laugh. Every time we pushed them down. they’d pop back up. and the more they popped up, the harder we laughed. We were out of control.

Suddenly, I realized my poor daddy could actually drown because when his feet popped up, his head went down and under so I reached down to hook my finger into the top of his floating blue bathing trunks but I jerked it so hard that his midsection came flying out of the water, bending him like an inverted “U,” thrusting both his legs and his head into the water.

The bad thing about all of this was daddy saw not one thing funny about it. He was sputtering and spitting and still we laughed.

You know how laughter is contagious? Well, all the laughter spread and soon all of the swimmers were laughing and many didn’t know what had happened. Darn near everyone was laughing except Daddy who, at some point, decided Alzheimer’s or not, he was the only sane person in that pool.

He managed on his own to grab the side of the pool, and upright, his poor body shoved the air out of his swimsuit and demanded to get out.

He, who could not walk alone I believe, was so disgusted with us he could have walked all the way back to the condo all by himself. I don’t think I will ever forget the image of my 91-year-old dad bobbing on top of the water, his iridescent blue and green shoes wildly struggling to hit the pool floor, his air-filled, oversized bathing trunks spread out around him like a giant fan and his head and face sober and confused sticking out just above the water sort of like he was emerging from the deep.

Looking back on this, I’m not sure why it struck us as so hilarious but I can assure you, it was very funny.

Maybe mother and I just needed a good releasing laugh.

Dealing with Alzheimer’s is anything but funny and being able to let go of the tension through honest-to-goodness belly laughing is just about what happened that day — at least for mom and me.

As for every one of us laughing heartily, that is exactly how laughter works. It’s contagious and it’s healthy and releasing for all those who watched daddy float.

Afterwards, we knew getting this pool hater in the pool for exercise was not going to be easy.

Maybe we could put rocks on the top of his iridescent shoes, get a sunscreen shirt if there is such a thing and a much smaller pair of bathing trunks with no room for air.

After we told him how well he did he even grinned. I don’t know what his memory of that day was but the hardy wholehearted belly laugh we enjoyed is one of my favorite memories.

The view from the mountain is wondrous.

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.