Color & Control:

When pigs can fly

By Mary Bart

Caregiving is not all doom and gloom. Many of us often find that unexpectedly hilarious things happen. Funny stories make us and the person we’re caring for—laugh, and they often help us to get through difficult situations. But before we take a look at three families and their ways of coping, let’s look at what laughter can do for our health.

Most of us love a funny story but there is also a serious side to most stories. Not only do they make us chuckle and create great memories, but they can also be used as learning opportunities to improve our caregiving.

Before we take a look at three families and their ways of coping, let’s look at what laughter can do for our health.

It’s been proven that laughter is a natural medicine. It lifts our spirits and makes us feel happy. And, it’s contagious, reduces stress hormones (cortisol and epinephrine) and releases endorphins that can potentially relieve pain.

  1. Mary and Caye

Mom and I loved to go shopping. Whether we were buying food or sheets and towels, she was always excited by the thought of wandering up and down the aisles together.

Because I felt a shop was a safe environment, when mom was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease I would sometimes encourage her to go ahead of me into another aisle. She enjoyed the feeling of being more independent. When we met up again, we would often pretend we were friends who hadn’t seen each other in ages. I would laugh and say, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s you, I’ve missed you” and give her a big, really long hug.

Our laughter often turned into us making funny noises at each other. We’d try to sound like birds chirping or dogs barking, or would start doing hiccups, burps or snores. The more ridiculous the sounds, the greater our laughter.

Lessons learned: As Mom was losing her memory and not always sure of herself or able to find her words, our funny, very public hugging and silly noise game helped to keep her amused. I learned to do what was best for Mom, regardless of where we were or who was watching. The funny thing is, at the end of her life, our noisy, funny hugging game was one of our best ways to communicate with each other. She didn’t have to worry about finding a word—she just had to make funny sounds and our laughter would continue to unite us.

2. Drew and Lee

Drew was left on his own to figure out the basics of caregiving for his mother-in-law one day, when his wife was suddenly called into work.

It was mid-morning before he tiptoed into Lee’s bedroom to see if she needed anything. Without a doubt, there had been an accident. The room smelt awful. After a few seconds of horror, Drew realized he would have to change his mother-in-law’s adult diaper—but where were they and how should he do it?

In a panic, Drew called his wife for step-by-step instructions, but she didn’t answer and he couldn’t find the spare diapers. Clearly, the first course of action was to call a neighbour to come to the house to sit with Lee while he rushed out to the pharmacy. Uncomfortably lost, Drew found himself breaking new ground in aisle three when a fellow shopper approached with some “Been there, done that” wise advice.

Rushing home to save the day, Drew barely had time to feel embarrassed as he got down to the task at hand. After all, Lee needed him and he wasn’t going to let her down—plain and simple. To this day, they all still find the situation amusing.

Lessons learned: Aside from deciding to keep an eye on Lee’s supplies and learn more about caregiving, Drew found a friend in the next-door neighbour. The neighbour also offered to help out sometimes to provide some much-needed respite for Drew and his wife.

 3. Rita, Steve and Mitch

Steve had been caring for his wife Rita for almost a year after she had experienced a major head injury that resulted in several emergency brain surgeries and strokes.

One Friday, Rita was rushed to the hospital again and things proved serious enough for the hospital to keep her for an extended period to monitor her condition. While Rita was on the third floor of the hospital, Steve ran into the wife of his old friend Mitch and discovered that he, too, was in for observation. Steve was excited to reconnect with his old buddy later that afternoon. After all, they hadn’t seen each other since Rita got sick.

Upon seeing Steve, Mitch chuckled and, in his normal sarcastic way, began with an insult: “Steve, you look like a grumpy old goat with matted hair. What happened?” Steve replied by saying, “Well, Mitch, you don’t look so hot either!” They both laughed, gave each other a quick hug and enjoyed getting caught up.

At home later that night, Steve took a good look in the mirror and agreed that his very honest friend was right. He had been so consumed with caring for Rita that he never thought about haircuts or shaving. For his next visit, Steve cleaned up—and he promised himself to get some exercise as well.

Lessons learned: In the middle of everything, caregivers often need a reminder to pay attention to their own health and hygiene. Looking and feeling good is not only essential to your own quality of life, but it also helps to make caregiving more manageable in the long run.

Humor on the job

Many family caregivers are sandwiched between working and looking after their loved ones so a little appropriate levity, on both their day job and their caregiving “job” can make life a little easier and even a little healthier:

In fact, according to Quickbooks article that discusses amazing facts about the value of humour in the workplace the following is true:

Joking around doesn’t detract from people’s productivity it has also been shown to improve employee retention.

Supervisors or delegators who use a sense of humour are perceived as better leaders (when you’re asking your brother to help out at home, perhaps you should lighten up!)

55% of workers would rather take less pay to have more fun at work.

Advertisements or stories with humour have a nearly 25% greater effectiveness

Using humor wisely

In a new situation you can set the tone by making a well timed joke about yourself, but steer clear of making fun of your loved one or others who might be helping out. Laughter is a powerful tool that can bring people together rather than alienating them, when used responsibility.

Using humor wisely

Let your funny caregiving stories be learning opportunities. Through your giggles when you think about an amusing story, ask yourself: “What can I learn from this? Is there a lesson in what happened?”

Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an Internet-based charity that offers education and support to family caregivers.

Do you have a funny caregiving story that taught you something? If so, send it to us at or post it on our Facebook page (

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