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ElderWise Guest Author, John Simmons

Q. What do a harp and an elderly parent have in common?
A. They are both unforgiving and difficult to get in and out of cars.

My dearly beloved mother passed away at the age of 88 in February. While I admired and respected her courage, strength, and devotion to family, at times she left me scratching my head because of some of the decisions she made in her later years.

While my mother was of sound mind until the very end of her life, I was sometimes frustrated because of what I perceived as illogical decisions that went as far as jeopardizing her health and safety.

To deal with the frustration, I resorted to laughter and humorous perspective, quite often using the harp-parent riddle above. Humour is a gift to us in difficult times and situations; it's easy to laugh when times are good, but more important to laugh when times are tough.

Regardless of the faith or world view from which you operate, it's difficult to argue against using humour to help us through life's challenges.

Finding humour is likely an evolutionary adaptation to help us deal with emotional pain and stress. It makes sense. Think of the laughter mingled with tears and grief when we celebrate and mourn the loss of a loved one.

The key concept is finding humour. Don't wait for it to find you. Emergency room personnel, paramedics, police and firefighters make dark "jokes" in situations which, heard out of context by non-participants, would cause many to recoil in horror or disgust. However, it is not meant for our ears. It is a coping mechanism that allows them to keep their sanity and continue to function in unimaginably awful circumstances.

If you accept this concept, then nothing is out of bounds when poking fun. Many situations have no inherent humour in them, but finding and using humour is often the best way to cope and even thrive in these circumstances.

When we use humour to make fun of a situation, an illness or any unpleasant aspect of life, it loses its power over us and helps us move forward.

The key distinction is poking fun at the challenge, not the person facing the challenge. The one exception is making fun of yourself. If you are the one with the problem, by all means poke fun at your reactions or how you tend to handle things. 

So, do laugh about your parent's odd habits and strange decisions. It's the best thing you can do for yourself - and it will help you to serve them better.

By the way, did I tell you the one about the elderly parent who refused to replace her dead thirty-five year old refrigerator because she couldn't find one for the same price?

Vol. 4, No. 12
� 2008, John Simmons.
John Simmons is a Calgary-based educator, speaker and author who assists organizations in taking a lighter approach, thereby increasing workplace effectiveness. He also presents on the topic of work-life balance and delivers inspirational keynote addresses. He can be reached on the web at or directly at [email protected].


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