I will continue my series on the Beatitudes and the work of Servais Pinckaers next week. My husband was in the hospital for 2.5 days with a partially collapsed lung, so I was unable to delve deeper into the Beatitudes. Since I spent more time in the hospital with my husband this week, I thought the topic of laughter in relation to suffering would be a good choice. It is something my husband and I rely on to get through our struggles with his illness.
As many regular readers know, my husband has been diagnosed with the rare auto-immune disease Wegener’s Granulomatosis (GPA). We have been working with a Rheumatologist to get it into remission. We are now in the stage of testing the waters to see if his first round of infusion antibody treatment has put the disease into remission for however long we can keep it there. Things seemed to be going more smoothly until Sunday night when he started coughing up a bit of blood again and developed intense pain when he would lie down on his back. We ended up in the Emergency Room where the ER doctor quickly discovered a pneumothorax (air pocket) and partial collapsed lung. My husband was admitted to the hospital and a chest tube placed in his lung.
Spiritual growth through laughter
Throughout our experiences over the last few months—besides our dependence on Christ through prayer, daily Mass, Adoration, etc.—my husband and I have found that laughter is a critical aspect of our journey with suffering. On this side of eternity, suffering is largely mystery. My husband and I do not get to know why he has this disease. Instead, we have to learn to trust God as we walk this path He has given to us. Suffering is a nasty business. It comes with deep physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual pain. It cuts to the very core of our being. It is a great equalizer. This we all know from our experiences of suffering, but if we focus solely on our pain and never add levity to the situation, we run the risk of falling into despair.
My husband repeatedly jokes around with hospital staff and plays jokes on his nurses whenever he is in the hospital. He possesses a great capacity for mirth and merriment even in the most trying of times. Our ER doctor this week had the same dry—and somewhat disturbing and macabre—sense of humor that my husband and I both possess. Through laughing about a situation that we cannot control, my husband and I are able to embrace each new trip to the hospital. We then draw the hospital staff into our acceptance of the Cross we have been given by our willingness to step into joy while suffering. It’s not easy, and we have our moments, but we are much more able to handle each new trip to the hospital the more we can laugh at the circumstances we cannot change or control.
I think it’s clear that my husband and I were put together partly because we both use laughter to respond to stress and pain. It is also a way that we are able to grow spiritually. It is quite a feat to see my husband laughing and joking with the medical staff who are caring for him while he has a chest tube in his right lung. He even joked around with the ER doctor who had to cut a hole in his chest and shove a tube into his lung, and he can laugh with the doctors while they try to figure out how to treat a man who has a disease most of them have never seen (some have never even heard of it), or have only seen once or twice in their entire time practicing medicine.
Laughter reminds us of God’s goodness
The last two hospital visits my husband has had chest tubes of varying sizes. He likes to roam the halls with his Pleurevac (the suction vacuum that gets rid of excess blood, fluid, and air in the lungs) in tow and threaten to go down to the cafeteria or head home with the vacuum in tow. It’s always amusing to see which nurses know he’s kidding and which ones think he’s serious. Many get the joke and join in, which allows all of us to take a difficult situation and enter into some joy and happiness through laughter in the midst of terrible suffering. We also invite other patients who are suffering to join us.
This laughing together in a community born of circumstance, reveals that there is in fact joy in pain. We do not have to give into the nihilistic tendency of despair and nothingness. There is hope no matter what happens in this life. Our hope is always in Christ. God is goodness, beauty, and truth. Laughter is a reminder of this truth. We also share this ultimate reality with others when we draw them into our moments of joy in the midst of suffering. I have noticed that there are far too many lonely people suffering alone in our hospitals. Laughter is a way to reach out to those who are marginalized and who not only suffer physical pain, but who know the deep poverty of loneliness and abandonment.
G.K. Chesterton and the need for laughter.
As I contemplated laughter in relation to suffering, the first Catholic writer who came to mind was G. K. Chesterton. He was a man who understood the need for levity in this Fallen world. He knew that this world is largely shrouded in mystery, but it is a world that teaches us in some way about Heaven.
Laughter has something in it common with the ancient words of faith and inspiration; it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes people forget themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Laughter frees us from the prison of our own pride and misery, even if it is only for a short while. Laughter unites people together who may never be united outside of the present circumstance. It is a universal aspect of the human experience. Our burden is made light when we can smile or laugh in the midst of darkness. If anything, laughter in the face of suffering reveals to us our hope in Christ. The suffering we endure in this life will not have the last say. Even though we must carry our often seemingly unbearable Crosses, we can find joy in the journey. A husband and wife who have been dealt a shocking hand rather early into their marriage, can in fact laugh together and invite others into that lightness. It is not to misunderstand the seriousness of suffering; rather, laughter draws us closer to acceptance of the Cross and one step closer to the Beatific Vision.
image: By MM (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons