Dear Carol: Is sharing funny caregiving situations with other caregivers disrespectful? My dad has dementia. I love him and would never hurt him, but his disease causes him to do strange things. Some of the situations are funny and if he catches himself, even he will laugh.
I’m not laughing at him at all, but when I’m relaxing with a friend whose mom also has dementia, we’ll sometimes tell each other about situations that are funny/sad. I guess I’m thinking that we’re human and also that we are seeing such serious decline that we occasionally have to let go and find something to laugh about. Sometimes when we do that, I feel guilty. What do you think? — LR.
LR: You are a sensitive human and a generous-hearted caregiver, so I don’t see you making fun of your dad. You’re just recognizing that humor can coexist with painful situations.
With any part of life, this tendency to find humor in situations that are otherwise painful can temporarily lift the burden. Support groups that focus on specific situations or diseases are successful in part because they provide safe places for people to be honest. Members can tell others about their challenges, but they also tend to laugh easily because they all understand.
I see no harm and likely significant gain in this. It seems that you and your friend have formed a mini support group that is working for you both while not harming your dad or anyone else.
A couple of my own examples of caregiver humor: My uncle was an ex-military officer who liked being addressed as “Colonel” by the nursing home staff, which was fine. What we found funny was that another resident who had been an enlisted member of the military loved to call my uncle “Corporal” just to watch my uncle’s face turn red.
Did we, the family, get a few chuckles out of this situation? Sure. We loved my uncle dearly, but he could have a somewhat entitled manner at times, and this interaction between the two former military men was endearing, but also amusing.
Another example was my neighbor, Joe. I had taken him to the clinic, and we were waiting for some lab work. The waiting area happened to be by an over-the-sidewalk walkway, so we were sitting patiently as we aimlessly people watched. When Joe saw a man pulling a large oxygen tank behind him as he crossed the walkway, Joe exclaimed (loudly, as he was profoundly deaf), "There goes a guy with a golf cart!" I was embarrassed because I was afraid the man had heard so I certainly didn’t laugh at the time. Later? Oh, yes. Every time I told the story to another caregiver.
Be gentle with yourself, LR. Caregivers endure a lot of stress. Sharing humorous incidents with another caregiver who understands is likely one of the healthiest things you can do for each other. You know as well as I do that you’re laughing over the tears.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.