Archives for category: Spirituality

By Sandra Cohen and Roger Cormier

You can’t break your funny bone

He who laughs, lasts. — Anonymous

There is more than enough adversity and stress in the world and in our lives, but probably not enough laughter. Think about your most recent and other good laughs, and a smile will appear on your face. Laughter is good for us at any age or stage in life.

img_0831Studies have shown laughter can help reduce stress and pain, lower blood pressure, elevate mood, boost the immune system, improve brain functioning and protect the heart. It can connect us to others — we laugh 30 times more with others than alone — foster instant relaxation and make us feel good and be more open to others.

Author Missy Buchanan, in her book “Living With Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults,” recounted how much she loved visiting her mother in a senior residence at lunchtime. A group of tablemates, all limited by multiple medical conditions and disabilities, told each other story after story and laughed their way through their meal. That caused other diners to brighten up and enjoy their meal more, too.

Laughter is good medicine and it is contagious. Think about it. Even when we’re alone, when something funny tickles us, first our face lights up and we smile; then we laugh, sometimes out loud; and occasionally we need to dry our eyes and regain our composure. Often our first thought is to share that experience by calling or e-mailing someone or passing it along in person.

Speaking of e-mail, many of us regularly receive jokes and funny stories and pictures via the Internet. We may wonder who has time to think these things up and start them on their way around town, the nation and sometimes the world. Fortunately, people do make time for humor, even in our busy and stressful world. If we would like to laugh more, how can we make that happen?

We can spend more time with people who make us laugh and who enjoy our funny lines and stories. Include more humor in our entertainment — reading, films, radio and television. Think back to funny experiences and swap them with others. Revisit the same image or story, and discover even more nuances that will tickle your ribs.

Studies show health-related benefits of laughter. Links to laughter web sites and laughter groups in North America and elsewhere: http://www.laughteryogaamerica.com/maps/; http://laughteronlineuniversity.com; http://laughteryoga.org

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Roger-Sandy

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

One day we saw an older man finishing a walk around a local reservoir with friends. From a distance only the words “I survived” stood out on the back of his T-shirt. We assumed it referred to his completion of a challenging run or walk. But it also occasioned some reflection on what it means to survive.

As we get older, we look back and recognize that we have survived in many ways. We remain physically alive thanks to a combination of genes, circumstances, luck and care. We have withstood and even grown through physical, emotional and financial losses. Our identity and roles in career, family and community have changed. Dreams have shattered and loved ones have been lost, and here we are finishing another walk or run around the reservoir of life.

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Why do those T-shirts always proclaim survival? We can just as well wear the message “I thrive.” Think about it. At any point in our lives, we both survive and thrive in different ways. Retirees struggle with the loss of their work identity, but they pursue new interests, activities and relationships. Elderly people lose some mobility, but apply themselves to new expressions and experiences such as watercolor painting or travel.

We don’t tend to advertise on T-shirts, however, when our lives take a nose dive from the pain and disorientation of such events as losing a loved one, feeling betrayed by someone we trusted, or sustaining a big financial loss or a serious medical event or illness. We go inward, do our grieving, accept support and understanding from people close to us, and emerge to test the waters in a vulnerable yet hopeful way.

The reservoir in this story can remind us that beneath our surviving is always a reserve, a source that calls forth untapped spiritual potential to thrive and move forward. Some seniors live in the past. Others fear the future. Many thrive in the now with gratitude, hope and commitment to themselves and others.

On a different, glorious, sunny day, we experienced a park with water cascading from every direction into crystal-clear lakes with fish visibly swimming everywhere. It reminded us that if we are stuck at the surviving end of life’s continuum, we can experience moments of surprise, wonder and awe that can inspire us to extend ourselves and thrive in ways we might dare to imagine.

The man at the reservoir met and celebrated his challenge. What waters will each of us allow to carry us to our next stage of living, learning, loving and laughing?

 

“Don’t get all weird about getting older! Our age is merely the number of years the world has been enjoying us!!” (from a “Maxine” cartoon)

People often forward funny cartoons and stories via email to family and friends about people who are getting older – as in active senior citizens or frail elders. That is partly because it is easier to laugh about our aging than to just dread it.

We have been writing about growing older since the other side of senior citizen status. For us, probably the biggest change is that we retired five years ago and have been enjoying international living and travel with no serious health problems ever since.

Having created and run home care and geriatric care management companies, we are familiar with the impact of frail physical health and memory loss on aging individuals and their families. This perhaps is what most people fear as they move toward later life. It not only is painful and frightening to the affected senior, but it often dominates and diminishes the lives of primary family caregivers.

Another dreaded event is the loss of one’s treasured life partner. After deeply sharing life for decades, it is difficult to even imagine living without the partner. Adjusting to such a loss takes persevering courage, time, and patient support from people close to a grieving partner.

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We have always used the expression “growing” rather than “getting” older. That is because we believe it is critical to live our later lives, just as our earlier lives, with emphasis on positive activities and attitudes rather than passive fixation on what we might lose or fear. Fortunately, we have been blessed to have outstanding role models in this regard. We know many people who, in spite of diminished physical capacities and sometimes tragic loss, have continued to explore the world through travel, creative hobbies, volunteer service and dedication to their family and friends.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, a friend of ours (Tom Stella, corporate chaplain for a health care organization in Colorado) emailed “A Pledge for Grateful Living written by Benedictine brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB, in which he encourages us to overcome those aspects of life that hold us back from living not only gratefully, but generously, creatively, non-violently, and courageously. When our lives are characterized by the virtues he espouses, our living becomes a thanks giving.”

Tom concludes his Thanksgiving message by encouraging us to “live with abandon, taste all of life, savor the sweet and the sour. Bon appetite!”