I sure could use a good laugh! | Dear Diane

by Elouise

An eyebrow-raising sense of humor and almost wicked delight in planning, anticipating and pulling off the perfect practical joke.  Especially if it involved some quirky thing about bodies.  ALS offered Diane plenty of bodily material.

When Diane was a child, her obligatory thank-you notes were absurdly funny.  Only as an adult did the truth come out:  Turning thank-you notes into comedy was her way of doing what our parents required us to do.  Her way, not their way.

Sometimes my childhood thank-you notes didn’t pass the test.  Diane’s always did.  Never once was she required to rewrite them.  In fact, our parents took delight and even a bit of forbidden pride in her small masterpieces of truth and fiction.

Here’s Diane’s 9th reflection on her life with ALS, followed by my response.

I sure could use a good laugh!

As a preadolescent I discovered one very useful aspect of humor:  it offered a way to please my parents, even endear myself to them.  I remember longing desperately to develop a pleasing sense of humor.  I feared “you either had it or you didn’t.”  I considered praying about this deep desire but such a self-serving request seemed doomed to backfire.  I hoped God wouldn’t judge me too harshly if I was willing to be humble about such a gift.

When I yearned for the ability to cause others to laugh, it’s my humble opinion that God smiled and chose to “humor” me enough to make me quite happy.  It was a tool for survival, a way to laugh when life wasn’t funny.

By the time I reached adulthood I had mastered other strategies with humor.  We all smiled while I held others at a comfortable distance, avoided encountering the deep feelings of those in front of my face, delivered harsh messages indirectly, and manipulated my own image.

Life has not been funny the last two years.  I still love to laugh, but it’s different now.  I find that laughter can help us acknowledge our deficiencies, invite people closer, share hard words with kindness, and make truth easier to accept.  Yes, humor is a marvelous tool for survival.

November 1997

Dear Diane,
You’re my hero when it comes to humor.  Not the kind that distances or manipulates, but the kind that laughs at itself—acknowledging human limitations and need.  You’ve got the gift!

I can’t begin to itemize all the times your disarming humor drew me in, helping both of us relax and get on with life as it really was—not as it was “supposed” to be.  ALS doesn’t know about “supposed” to be anything.

Some of my most endearing memories of you have to do with body humor.  You perfected this in your ALS days.  Yet I suggest it all began, oddly enough, as part of our uptight family tradition.   Remember?

We’re all in the car going somewhere—to church, on a trip, whatever.  Suddenly a Very Bad Smell permeates the air.  Within seconds, index fingers shoot up into the air (parents included!), and we jerk our heads around hoping we’re not the last finger up.  Last finger up is declared the culprit and must immediately say the socially appropriate “Excuse me!”  Great fun, especially if you’re the culprit and get your finger up first.

Fast forward to ALS days.  You collected choice greeting cards and trolled the internet for body humor images.  Especially about women’s bodies.  You know: boobs, butts, strange and stranger bathing suits, and the general avalanche and eruptions of aging body parts.  All of it totally out of control and in your face.

Then there was the way you used humor to make truth easier to accept.  For example:
~Truth #1:  ALS robed Mom of her capacity to control bodily movement.
~Truth #2:  Mom needs regular transportation in her flashy red retro-fitted van.
~Truth #3:  Mom must sometimes rely on you, her young adult children, to drive the van (with Mom in it) in such a way that she is intact and in good humor upon arrival.

Mom’s solution?  Humor on a one-pager inscribed with Mom’s Five Commandments printed in large red font.

How to Chauffeur Mom
Without Getting Dirty Looks

  • Don’t take off in a hurry.  Mom doesn’t like to pull g’s unless she is driving.
  • Don’t accelerate when an obvious stop is imminent—obvious to Mom.
  • Don’t wait to brake.  Mom likes to be assured ahead of time that you are planning to slow down or stop.
  • Don’t tailgate, especially in heavy traffic.  Mom gets agitated reading license plates on the move.
  • Don’t sling Mom around in her chair.  Mom is the only one who defines sling around.

Drive without spilling an open glass of water on the floorboard of the vehicle you are driving.

May 1998

When I think about your good humor in your ALS days, I don’t see it distracting attention from reality.  I see it as healthy, unselfconscious acceptance of your real, sometimes in-your-face humanity.  It was the truth about your life with ALS, with God and with your family and friends.  A galaxy removed from getting uptight and pretending things are fine, just fine.

One last thought:  I wonder sometimes whether there was also loneliness in your good humor.  I often wished I could join you in more than laughter.  Maybe someday I will.

Love and hugs,

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 October 2014