And so we laugh
In the late ’90s, my husband and I often pitched in to help his mom with his grandmother. We helped move her into assisted living when she was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and later, to a residence for dementia care. Back then, I marveled — winced, even — every time my mother-in-law and her sister laughed when their mother’s dementia caused her to do something funny, or out of the ordinary. How could they laugh when their mother couldn’t help herself? When her actions were a symptom of something so awful? Their laughter seemed wrong to me.
“Beatriz, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry,” they used to say to me. I didn’t get it. Didn’t understand that they weren’t laughing at their mother, really; their laughter was more of a release of the tension that built up as a result of everything they were dealing with. I didn’t understand that it’s true about laughter being great medicine.
Until now, when I am faced with the same frustrations that they had, but two-fold, since my mother and mother-in-law both have Alzheimer’s. Now, I understand that what they used to tell me — “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” — is what one of my high school English teachers would have called a profundity.
Some days, my sister, my brother and I will recall something Mom did and we will laugh until tears roll down our face. No, we aren’t laughing at her with malice. We love her. We want to protect her and give her the best quality of life in her present condition. We are, however, letting go of some of the frustration, the feelings of ineptness that build up and fester within our bodies as a result of facing a non-curable disease.
There was the time earlier this year, for instance, when my husband and I took my mom to dinner at Souper Salad. Although I pointed out to her that it wasn’t cold outside, my mother insisted on her usual layering of clothes and ubiquitous scarf. The waiter took one look at my mom, assumed we were Muslim and asked which country we were from. When I went to bed later that night, I was still laughing.